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THE UNIVERSITY OF
THE WILMER COLLECTION
OF CIVIL WAR NOVELS
RICHARD H. WILMER, JR.
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
•33oofes bp iJlauricc Cbampson.
POEMS. Crown 8vo, J I. so.
A TALLAHASSEE GIRL. A Novel. i6mo,
Ji.oo ; paper, 50 cents.
STORIES OF THE CHEROKEE HILLS.
Illustrated. i2mo, $1.50.
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
Boston and New York.
'JUDAS! YOU OLD COON !" — " MARS BEN !" (Page 72)
THE CHEROKEE HILLS
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 189S, BY MAURICE THOMPSON
ALL RIGHTS RHSERVED
Color-Line Jocundities i
Ben and Judas 34
Hodson's Hide-Out 78
Rudgis and Grim 115
A Race Romance 139
A Dusky Genius 169
The Balance of Power 216
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
" Judas ! you old coon ! " — " Mars Ben ! "
(Page 72) Frontispiece
Side by side on the sandy bank of the
"W-w-w'at Dave is yer tarkin' 'bout?" . 102
He filled his pipe, and lighted it . .134
"Call me Mr. Marting" 160
He watched this strange procession . . 166
Judge Dillard 178
STORIES OF THE CHEROKEE
History is the record of closed periods,
the presentation of what mankind has lost
and gained in the course of progress.
When I was a boy Bud Peevy said to me :
" Ef ye 'r' a-hankerin' ter know what ye
don't want ter know, jes' ax a ole man what
he thinks o' a young un." Bud was, him-
self, neither young nor old. " I kin look
both ways," he often remarked, "an' see
back inter the what wus an' for'rd inter the
goin' ter be. They's both poorty much
erlike. What wus did n't sat'sfy nobody,
an' what 's er goin' ter be '11 never make no
livin' soul happy. We loses an' we finds ;
but we never finds ag'in what we loses, an'
2 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
we never has a dern thing wo'th er huntin'
fer when we 've lost it." I am neither ac-
cepting nor rejecting Bud Peevy's philo-
sophy ; what I feel is that history must be
valuable in proportion to the accuracy of
its details, and that its most precious de-
tails are those incidents of human life that
flicker along the vanishing line by which
the close of every period of civilization is
Early in my childhood our family went
to live on a lonely estate amid the moun-
tains of Cherokee Georgia. The farmstead
was circled around by foothills, above which
in all directions blue peaks kissed the rim
of a heaven that looked like the half of a
pale blue bird-egg shell turned hollow side
down. All of our neighbors and friends
were mountaineers, and I grew up a moun-
taineer boy. I spoke the mountain lingo,
wore the mountain garb, conformed to all
the customs and manners of the mountain
folk for many years, and, indeed, was
scarcely less than to the manner born.
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 3
With a flint-lock, " whole-stock " rifle I
shot in competition at the matches for beef
and turkey ; I danced at many a cabin ball
where the fiddler played " Natchez under
the Hill," " Black-Eyed Susan," " Cotton-
Eyed Joe," and " Flat Woods," and where
the loose board floor rattled merrily under
our jigging feet. I went to singing-school
and to class-meeting, to weddings and to
funerals, to still-house meets ; I went coon-
hunting by torchlight, chestnut-hunting on
the mountain tops, 'possum-hunting in the
bottom lands, and was always present at
the particular justice court ground where
a fight was expected. Moreover I chewed
" mounting-twist " tobacco and smoked the
same, until I became aware of better hab-
its and reformed.
Certainly in those wild, free days I did
not dream of "local color" or of literary
materials. It was a mountaineer who
taught me the use of the longbow ; but I
never expected to use it in history, or in
4 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
fiction, not more than I looked forward
to the influence that Theocritus — whose
Idylls were even then being drilled into
me by a private tutor — might have upon
my unthought-of poetry. Yet it must be
seen that my life was flushing itself, flood-
ing me, with the elements that have per-
force entered into the sketches here offered
to the historian of American civilization.
When the great war came on I went
into it, hot-headed, unthinking, a mere
boy, bubbling over with enthusiasm for
the South and its cause. Fortune so di-
rected that I was to be a mountaineer even
in military life, and for many months I
served as a scout in the rugged, billowy
region of North Georgia, North Alabama,
and East Tennessee. At the close of the
war I went back to our home in the hills,
resuming for a while the old life ; as Bud
Peevy would say : " A livin' 'twixt starva-
tion an' the 'tater patch," with a book in
one hand and a hoe in the other, while a
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 5
vague yet irresistible impulse compelled
me to seek literary expression. Then men
and women began to be objects of absorb-
ing curiosity. I studied them with hungry
persistence, but found myself attempting
to describe and portray only the men and
women that I had read about ; and it was
not until after I had gone into Indiana and
made my home there that I became aware
of the Southern mountaineer as a persist-
ent and insistent supplicant for portraiture
at my hands.
Now, albeit the war was ended, politics
had taken on the bitterness engendered by
the reconstruction troubles, and when these
sketches on the " color-line," written early
in the seventies, were offered to editors
they were promptly rejected, on the ground
that "fiction in any way connected with
the recent war in the South and its re-
sults " could not fail to '* engender ill feel-
ing and do injury to both writer and pub-
lisher." So my stories of slavery, war,
6 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
emancipation, and reconstruction in the
Southern mountain region were cast aside
and lay in the manuscript for years, until
at last, after I had printed other stories,
and after the impression of the great war
had somewhat softened, I offered one of
them, entirely rewritten and very much
changed, to the "Century Magazine" under
the title, " Hodson's Hide-Out," and it was
promptly accepted and printed. The other
stories in this volume followed, all, except
" The Balance of Power," appearing at in-
tervals in the " Century ; " the last named
story was printed in " Harper's Magazine,"
and to the editors of these great publica-
tions I am indebted for the privilege of
offering this book to the world.
The reader will not need to be told that
these bits of fiction were written with the
purpose to fix in imperishable, even if
crude, form the curious effects wrought by
negro slavery upon the lives of the illiter-
ate, stubborn, and absolutely independent
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 7
dwellers among the arid and almost inac-
cessible mountains of the South. I knew
my people, and little as I could trust my
art, I could not doubt the accuracy or the
value of that knowledge, no matter how
imperfectly it might be set in literature.
There is no caricature in these stories ;
the mist of fiction and the sheen of imagi-
nation have not distorted the main facts as
I saw them in their day. Slavery in the
mountains was very little like slavery in the
low country, and the reader need not hesi-
tate to accept as true, albeit clothed upon
with romance, the singular features most
prominent in these excerpts from a life not
to be measured by the standard of any
other. The story of " Ben and Judas "
represents not Middle Georgia proper, but
rather the hill country now called " Pied-
mont Georgia," where it borders the real
mountain region. I give it first place be-
cause it was first written (although " Hod-
son's Hide-Out" preceded it in publica-
8 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
tion, as I have said), and because it sounds
the key-note of my purpose.
The mountaineers proper rarely owned
slaves ; only here and there one had been
willing or able to buy a black. Of course
there were many prosperous farmers in
the Cherokee country, many wealthy slave-
owners ; but they were not mountaineers.
Indeed, nearly all of the rich " river-bot-
tom " lands and most of the fertile valley
plantations were the property of aristo-
cratic low-country planters, who had come
into the hills after the " land-lottery " days.
The mountaineers clung to the "pockets"
and coves, preferring the broken country
far from railroads and towns. One or two
negroes could be found on some of the for-
lorn little farms where accident or unusual
thrift had favored a man like Rudgis, and
in a few cases a master like Dillard was a
fair example of a hybrid, neither a moun-
taineer nor a low-countryman.
It struck me that the attitude of the
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 9
mountaineer toward slavery and emanci-
pation would give just the touch of serio-
comic oddity needed to set the "vanishing
line " of the old regime most tellingly be-
fore the public. The impression haunted
me so that I returned to the mountain
country and studied over again the details
of life there, collecting from every available
source the materials used in my sketches.
When these were refused by the editors
upon both business and political grounds,
I felt to a degree the justice of the criti-
cism, considering the state of public senti-
ment at both the North and the South just
then. And even when the stories did
appear in the magazines, they were stren-
uously objected to by some Southern
extremists as being favorable to Northern
prejudices, while, on the other hand, many
Northern readers, especially in New Eng-
land, castigated me severely for my sym-
pathy with the slaveholder and the " Lost
Cause " ! Between the two armies of ob-
lO COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
jectors I felt timid about printing the
stories in book form, and so they have lain
I would not have it understood that I
magnify the importance of these stories, as
stories. I am keenly aware of their many
imperfections. They are offered as side-
lights to history. Dunk Roe of Pinelog
assured me in a talk, written down in 1896,
— a late date in the breaking-up period,
— that " ef er feller air inter a noshen thet
er nigger air es good es er white man, thet
air feller needs hell three times er day."
But Dunk Roe was, and probably still is,
a politician to be classed morally with
those Northerners who deem it their duty
to cram the negro forcibly into the cars,
the theatres, the schools, and the churches
built, owned, and operated by white South-
erners for the use of white Southerners.
The color-line is not a line of disgrace to
black or white. There would be no trou-
ble on it, if it were respected by man as
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES II
thoroughly as God respected it in creating
the two races. Dunk Roe said : " God
A'mighty air 'sponsible fer the black on er
nigger an' fer the white on er white man.
Hit ain't no disgrace fer er nigger ter be
er nigger, ner fer er white man ter be er
white man. Hit air w'en er nigger tries
ter be white, an' er white man wrassles ter
be er nigger, 'at the disgrace comes in."
The " Race Romance " exhibits a white
man who felt called upon to do missionary
work with the purpose of reversing the
order of things on the color-line. Peevy
says that " what thet air nigger finally an'
everlastin'ly done ter thet dern white man
do p'intedly show jes' what 'd happing ter
all the white folks o' this kentry ef them
dad ding nigger-lovers hed ther way."
In writing these sketches it was my aim
to occupy an impartial point of view. I
told my old friend Brimson, some time
before his experiment wrecked him, that
I had no argument to offer for or against
12 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
the theory that he so enthusiastically main-
tained ; but Dunk Roe spoke freely to
him, in nearly these words : —
" Brimson, hit air er fac' 'at ye hain't got
half sense ; but er dern fool orter know 'at
ye cayn't edicate er nigger in fifteen
minutes so 'at he kin be like er white man.
Hit hev tuck erbout er million years to
edicate the white man an' mek 'im reason-
able decent ; an' how the dernation kin ye
'spect tertek er eejit nigger an' mek a ekal
ter the white man of 'im ? An' 'spacially
wi' er triflin' ole sap-head, like ye air, fer
ter do it."
In the course of my latest inquiries I
talked with an intelligent old negro named
Tuck Baker, an original character, if there
ever was one. Before and during the war
he belonged to 'Squire Baker on Pinelog.
I inquired about him before seeing him,
and was not surprised when, to one of my
direct questions, he made answer : —
"Ya-a-s, sah, boss, I done voted one
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 13
time at de 'lection, an' dat 's 'nuff fo' Tuck.
He wagged his grizzled woolly head and
grinned with reminiscent opulence of ex-
pression, his face shining like a gargoyle
polished with lampblack.
" Ya-a-s, sah, I done put in one vote, an'
cotch it in de yea' good an' hard fo' it;
" How was that. Tuck .? " I inquired with
" How wus it ? Yo' ax how wus it ?
Well, sah, boss, hit wus lak er bein' kicked
wid er fo' yea' ole mule ; dat 's jes' 'zac'ly
how it wus."
Tuck was a huge man ; nor had his
sixty-five years lessened the solidity of his
ebon bulk of muscles. As he stood before
me, grinning and gazing aslant reflectively,
he gave me the fullest impression of half-
savage humor strongly affected by a very
noteworthy and wholly comical recollec-
14 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
" Ya-a-s, sah, boss, I chuck one vote in-
ter de box ; an' I wus er feelin' ez big es er
skinned boss on dat 'casion, kase dem whi'
men wus all stan'in' roun' er lookin' at me
while I say : ' Yar go my senterments ; '
an' jes' den I feel somep'n'."
He chuckled and shook his head with a
certain indescribable expression of jocund-
" Ya-a-s, sah, I feel somep'n' what jar dis
yer ole haid same lak er bar'l er co'n been
drap on it. I 'spec I went er whollopin'
heel ober haid pooty nigh erbout seben-
teen feet en struck de groun' on de back
o' my haid. Ya-a-s, sah, I did fall outda-
cious hard; en den I year er whi' man
say : ' Dat 's my senterments, yo darn black
whelp!' Ya-a-s, sah, dat's jes' w'at he say,
en he 's de one 'at hit me en mighty nigh
bus' my haid."
He pressed his big black hand on his ear,
as if he still felt the effect of the buffet.
" Ya-a-s, sah, I 's not b'en er doin' berry
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 1$
much votin' sence dat day. Yah, yah,
yahee ! "
His laugh was atrociously, barbarously
charged with delight in his reminiscence.
" Boss," he presently added, " is yo'
'quainted wid Mistah Bud Peeby ? "
I nodded affirmatively.
" Well, sah, boss, 't wus him 'at knock de
votin' notion clean out 'n me. Yah, yah,
yahee-e-e ! "
And between Brimson and Peevy lies
an area which, doubtless, is the land of the
golden mean. Tuck seemed satisfied, nay
stimulated, as he thus sketched, with dra-
matic strokes distinctly African, his one
experience at the polls ; and I saw that he
fully realized the beauty of the inevitable.
" Ya-a-s, sah, boss," he remarked in con-
clusion, giving his clouted trousers an up-
ward jerk, " ya-a-s, sah, boss, I done retired
fom polertics, sho 's yo' bo'n ! I done ater-
wards tole Mistah Bud Peeby 'at it seem
lak his senterments is mo' stronger 'n mine.
l6 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
Ya-a-s, sail, I done tole 'm dat. No, sah,
boss, I 's not hongry ter vote no mo', yah,
yah, yahee-e-e ! Sho 's yo' bo'n I 's done
fill plum' full an' er runnin' ober, — I done
got er plenty; don' wush no mo'. I done
tole Mistah Bud Peeby 'at he kin do my
votin' fo' me ; ya-a-s, sah."
Upon the whole, however, the change
from master and slave to boss and freed-
man has generated no deep troubles.
Peevy and Tuck are excellent friends as
they toe the color-line. They regard each
other with humorous respect, comprehend-
ing the situation far more clearly than do
the good zealots who from afar off shout
for equality. The black and white are ar-
ranging the difficult details of their rela-
tions by the law of Nature, a law which no
legislative body can successfully modify or
amend, which no earthly power can repeal.
And what a picturesque civilization the
two colors are forming!
The line fades more slowly in the moun-
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 1/
tain region than it does in the most aristo-
cratic part of the low country. Education
is a sponge that wipes out prejudice, which
is the only real stumbling-block of Chris-
tian people black and white. But educa-
tion proceeds slowly when it has to climb
rocky steeps and stumble along inhospi-
table fells. Besides, the mountaineers re-
sent every hint of change, every sugges-
tion from outside their customs and habits,
every apparition of authority; and they
cannot understand how a man, sitting away
off yonder as a court of law, can have the
right to send another man, as a sheriff, to
meddle with their affairs. Hodson had no
conception of the right of Confederate or
Federal officials to order him into war or
to bid him let go his slave. So the distil-
ler of " mounting jew " whiskey at this mo-
ment has no sense of transgression on his
part, when he resists the revenue squad ;
but it seems certain to him that the gov-
ernment is an outlaw.
l8 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
" Hit use ter be right fer every man 'at
wanted to ter build 'im er still-house an'
mek all the licker 'at he wushed to," said
Lige Hackett, " an' I jes' cay n't see how
hit 's any wronger now 'an hit wus then.
I 'd jes' shoot seving diffe'nt sorts o' liver
an' lights outen any gov'ment jay-hawker
'at 'ud kem foolin' 'roun' my place er biz-
ness, an' don't ye fergit it ! "
Now, in the days when I was a moun-
taineer I rolled all of these elementary
philosophic peculiarities under my tongue
as morsels sweet as honey-wax from Arca-
dia. With every breath from the hills of
Habersham, with every waft from Rabun,
or Estell, or from the wild pockets of
Dade, I drew in unlimited love of savage,
absolute freedom. I got firmly footed
upon the ground occupied by Peevy and
Rudgis and Hodson. But I trod the color-
line with a full appreciation also of those
genial and faithful grotesques who ploughed
and hoed and sang so blithely in the fields
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 19
of corn and cotton. Ah ! the old days, —
call them quasi-feudal, call them a faded
and feeble reflection of medieval romance,
give them what bitter name you will, — I
tell you that they were like old mellow wine,
and the smack of them can never quit the
tongue that tasted them. The dance in
the big house and the hoe-down in the
kitchen, it were hard to say which was the
merrier. The blacks worked ; but never
before, since Eve ate and Adam gorged to
purchase a curse, did laborers seem to have
so good a time at their tasks. The whites
played from morning till night ; yet all
play and no work did not sour the life they
The few negroes owned by mountain-
eers were coddled as precious pet animals
sometimes are. Even men like Peevy were
over-indulgent masters, strictly as they in-
sisted upon every formality of the color-
line. The story of " Ben and Judas" indi-
cates one of the curious results of constant
20 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
and long personal familiarity between ex-
ceptional individuals of the two races where
the slackest state of thralldom and the
warmest sort of sympathy ruled conditions.
It is a sketch from life. In my childhood
I knew the men, and in my youth I heard
the story of the melon-patches and the
prayer over the delicious plunder. Indeed,
it was while on a pedestrian ramble in
" Piedmont Georgia," as the late Mr.
Grady, the gifted editor and orator, named
the lower hill country, that I (searching
for a few bits of local color needed in re-
vising "Ben and Judas") fell upon high
fortune in making the acquaintance of
Mr. Hector Aaron Lifter, M. A. He was
a clever yellow man, a graduate and post
graduate of an obscure Northern college,
and absorbed in self-conceit while osten-
sibly doing educational missionary work
among the blacks, whom he patronizingly
spoke of as " My people."
I had little to do with Lifter ; but I am
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 21
infinitely indebted to him for a collection
of curious rhymes and crude ditties picked
up by him during two or three years of
commendable research and inquiry. Not
a few of the pieces in this collection have
been familiar to me from childhood ; but
there are many that appear to be of more
recent origin. Slaves were fond of gro-
tesque music, which they often attempted
to imitate in metre and rhyme. Here are
a few examples of negro word-melody : —
« Mule colt,
Eat de coUah,
Cost ole massa
Half er doUah."
" Hi, oh, Mariley come down de mountain,
Ho, Mariley, ho-o-oh !
Wid er sta' on 'is breas' an' er ring on 'is finger,
Ho, Mariley, ho-o-oh !
Hi, oh, Mariley look like er preacher,
Ho, Mariley, ho-o-oh !
But de Debbil tuck er chunk an' he burnt ole Mariley,
Ho, Mariley, ho-o-oh ! "
22 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
Both of the foregoing examples are corn
songs, that is, they were sung mostly at
corn-huskings by night ; but the following
are field songs, probably improvised by
ploughmen while trudging in the fragrant
furrows across the bottom lands: —
" Grow, co'n, grow in de new groun' bottom,
Grow, co'n, grow, yi ho-o-o !
Yd' heah me, co'n, den lissen w'at I tole yo',
Grow, co'n, grow, ho-ee-hoee, ho ! "
"Dey's er gal in de kitchen er bakin' de braid.
Hilly, hally, hally ho, hi ho !
En dat gal's eye sorty twinkle in 'er haid.
Hilly ho, hally ho, hi ho-o-o ! "
" Chicken, O chicken, is ye gwine ter roos' low ?
Roos' low, roos' low.
Fo' de big pot 's er biiin' ober de fire,
Roos' low, roos' low,
En po' ole nig cay n't climb much higher,
Roos' low, roos' low ! "
" Runt pig, runt pig, is yo' sho' yo' knows me ?
Piggy> Piggy> pig. Pigoo !
Dey 's er nubbin er co'n in de basket fo' yo',
Pigoo, pigoo, pigoo !
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 23
Runt pig, runt pig, fatten up faster,
P'ggy» piggy, pig. Pigoo '
En w'en yo' 's gone ole mars' won't miss yo',
Pigoo, pigoo, pigoo ! "
The pieces that are probably of early
post-slavery date have an unwelcome touch
of self-conscious sentiment in them. I
need quote but one : —
" De ole time gone en I go too,
De ole time gone erway.
Dey 's no mo' light in cabin doo',
De ole time gone erway.
Wha' dem chill'en ? Wha' ole mudder ?
De ole time gone erway.
Wha' ole marstah ? Wha' ole mist'ess ?
De ole time gone erway."
But Paul Dunbar has shown that the
native strain of poetry in the negro's na-
ture can find much nobler utterance than
these crude bits would have seemed to
promise. I quote them merely to give
the warrant I had for introducing certain
negro songs of my own as coming from
the lips of my black people. And it is
24 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
well to note here that the negroes of the
highlands were far more merry, genial, and
musical than those of the lowlands. I once
made a voyage down the Coosawattee
River in a corn boat manned by negroes.
Our way led us between incomparably rich
plantations lying on either side of the
stream ; but it was only now and then that
we could see the fields, the banks being
high and densely fringed with reeds. One
of our crew had what the negroes called
" quills ; " it was a rude syrinx, made (ex-
actly to the ancient pattern) of graduated
cane joints fastened together in a row, on
which he played a barbaric tune while
some of the others patted and danced.
In the night from the distant plantation
quarters we often heard answering quills,
whose strains softened by remoteness
struck my sense with an indescribable
dreamy pathos. One evening, while we
lingered at an obscure ferry, a small party
of slaves in charge of a good-natured over-
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 25
seer came down the little clay road to the
river, and spent awhile with us before
crossing. One huge black fellow begged
the quills from our man, and blew so
sweetly on it that the tune roUics in my
memory to this day. Another fellow, a
stripling with a face which was nearly all
mouth, sang a ditty of which I can give
but one stanza : —
" Side-meat en sweet 'taters eat mighty good,
En my gal 's er gwine home in de mo'nin' ;
Debbil say he 'bout ter die, don' yo' wush he would ?
En my gal 's er gwine home in de mo'nin' ;
Hip, hi, shuffle knee high,
Fo' my gal 's er gwine home in de mo'nin'."
It was the sunny -minded, optimistic
negroes whose slavery days fell among the
mountains, and when one of them belonged
to a true highlander there was little dan-
ger that thralldom would be more or less
than an idyllic experience, well worth pre-
serving in art far more beautiful than
mine. In one of my notebooks I find the
26 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
following nearly verbatim report of what
Steve Iley told me about his negro : —
" He war nat'ly no ercount ; but he cud
play the banjer an' sing ter everlastin'.
Folks use ter come clean f'om Ellijay " (a
county seat fifteen miles distant) "to yer
'im pick an' sing 'is songs. I use to swa'
ter myself 'at I 'd whirp 'im fo' not workin';
but he war so dad burn comic 'at I jes'
cud n't keep f'om laughin' at 'im."
"And what became of him?" I inquired.
" Wat 'come er my nigger Tom ? Oh,
he 's er livin' over the mounting yander.
Wen the wa' freed 'im I druv 'im off'n my
place 'cause he called me ' boss,' the dad
burn ole vilyan."
I have never been able to hear of a single
negro who has habitually used the word
master since the war in personally address-
ing his former owner, and the mountain-
eer does not take kindly to being called
That genial and gifted man, the author
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 2/
of the " Uncle Remus " books, is of the
opinion that Southern slaves knew but
little about the banjo ; the fiddle, he thinks,
was their chief musical instrument. I
make no controversy, and only know that
in the mountains the white men fiddled
and the blacks " picked de banjer." Many
a time all night long have I obeyed the
commands : "Swing yer pardners an' circle
ter the lef," " Sighshay," " First gentleman
ter the lef, " " Balernce all," and the like,
to the music of a home-made banjo played
by a negro ; but this was of course only
when a fiddler could not be had.
I shall never forget an orchestra that we
were honored with one night at the spa-
cious cabin of Jere Borders, somewhere
near the head waters of the Salliquoy. An
octogenarian white fiddler, a fat negro
banjoist, and a " straw drummer " were the
musicians. The straw drummer's business
was to beat time upon the fiddle strings
during the playing. Late in the evening
28 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
there was a misunderstanding, and most of
us quit dancing and began a lively fight.
Out went all the lights, save that from a
flickering pine knot on the hearth, and
there was hot work for five minutes in the
dark. When it was all over, and we
thought it time to resume the dance. Hank,
the fat black banjoist, was missing, and
after some search we found him up the
chimney, where he was wedged in so fast
that we had to pull him down by the legs;
but so carefully had he guarded his beloved
instrument that it was not even out of
tune ! It was that banjo of Hank's from
which came the main suggestion of " A
Dusky Genius." Hank himself took great
delight in explaining to me how he wrought
the rude yet beautiful lute, the head of
which was covered with a translucent
My own first lessons in banjo-picking
were received from " old John," the coal-
black property of Mr. Joseph Wilson,
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 29
whose plantation lay on the Coosawattee,
about seven miles northeast of Calhoun in
Gordon County, Georgia. Later a friend,
Mr. John O'Callaghan, of the same town,
left in my possession for some years an
excellent instrument made by a negro.
Indeed, I know that the slaves of the
mountain region were in many instances
very ingenious and skillful mechanics as
well as musicians. A curious lute was
made by one darkey thus : A gourd vine
was trained to grow along the ground, and
when a young gourd began to form, two
broad boards were driven parallel firmly
into the earth in such a position that as
the gourd grew it was forced to take a flat
form between them. When it had ripened
and hardened it was scraped and polished,
the handle sawed off, the insides neatly re-
moved. Then a banjo-neck was fitted on,
sound-holes cut, a bridge and strings put
on, and lo ! a banjo, the dry, hollow, thinly
flattened gourd serving as the body ; and
30 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
a comical instrument it was, feeble, stu-
pid sounding, but yet giving forth true
The story entitled " The Balance of
Power " brings another slight change on
the color-line. Political currents swirled
at random for some time in the South be-
fore the whites fairly got things to going
their own way. In the low country the
outcome has been through constitutional
amendment, limiting the exercise of the
elective franchise to citizens of lawful age
who can read and satisfactorily explain to
the proper board a section of the state or-
ganic law. Of course the board is com-
posed of white men, and when I was in
northern Mississippi, soon after the con-
stitutional change began to operate in
that State, I made some inquiries regard-
ing the effect of it. I had followed the
subsiding billows of the great Sand Moun-
tain disturbance across Alabama, and was
now beating around among the farewell
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 31
hills. Aaron Harper explained the mat-
ter to me. Said he : —
" I never went ter no school, an' never
hed no I'arnin', an' hit s'prised me mighty
nigh inter fits w'en I suddently found out
'at I could read. Hit wus this way : I goes
down ter town 'lection day ter vote, an'
there 's ebout two hundred niggers tromp-
in' eroun' on thet same business ; but nary
er dern one o' 'em could read thet conster-
tootion. Well, sa', w'at ye s'pose I done
w'en they stuck thet air docymint under
my nose ? "
" You were in a pretty close place," I
" Close place, nothin'," he remarked in a
tone of vast contempt. " Ye s'pose I wus
goin' ter stan' 'roun' ther' er suckin' my
thumb, like them dern niggers, an' not
" But what could you do ? " I demanded.
"Do.? What'd I do?" he repeated,
with a peculiar sardonic grin. " W'y, I jes'
32 COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES
nat'ly grabbed thet constertootion an' read
it for'd an' back'rds an' sideways an' edge-
ways, thet 's w'at I done ; an' I 'splained
ever single dern word o' it ter them jedges
jes' like er loryer ter a jury. Vote ? I
cud er voted seving times ef I 'd wanted
ter. An' nary dern nigger got er smell ! "
I laughed, of course.
" Hit air sorter funny," he admitted, with
a wink, " an' I s'pec' 'at I won't be able ter
read er nother dad burn word tell nex'
'lection ! "
Up in the true mountain country the
negroes have never given any very great
political trouble ; but in a few localities,
under stress of a particularly close and ex-
citing squabble for office, the balance of
power has been negatively, if not positively,
controlled by the colored element. Curi-
ously enough, the candidate who has
gained this deciding increment has been
invariably defeated ; nor is this rule likely
to be changed in the future. The balance
COLOR-LINE JOCUNDITIES 33
of power, like every other political gift
accidentally tossed to the negroes by a
grotesque fortune, is but a huge joke to
be cracked on the color-line.
But notwithstanding the humor of these
slowly fading conditions, the facts under
them are grim, dense, imperishable ; they
demand respectful and unprejudiced treat-
ment in art and history, as registering the
vanishing-point of a tremendous old-time
influence and the starting-point of a new
regime in the hill country. What a period
of romance the old slavery time was ; and
yet it had no romancer ! What a life of
poetry; but it had no poet! What a cycle
of history ; yet not a historian to record it !
What an epic ; and never a Homer ! What
a tragedy ; but not a Sophocles, not a
BEN AND JUDAS
On a dark and stormy summer night,
early in the present century, two male chil-
dren were born on the Wilson plantation
in middle Georgia. One of the babes
came into the world covered with a skin
as black as the night, the other was of that
complexion known as sandy ; one was
born a slave, the other a free American
citizen. Two such screeching and squall-
ing infants never before or since assaulted
simultaneously the peace of the world.
Such lungs had they, and such vocal
chords, that cabin and mansion fairly shook
with their boisterous and unrhythmical
wailing. The white mother died, leaving
her chubby, kicking, bawling offspring to
share the breast of the more fortunate col-
ored matron with the fat, black, howling
BEN AND JUDAS 35
hereditary dependent thereto ; and so Ben
and Judas, master and slave, began their
companionship at the very fountain of life.
They grew, as it were, arm in arm and
quite apace with each other, as healthy
boys will, crawling, then toddling, anon
running on the sandy lawn between the
cabin and the mansion, often quarreling,
sometimes fighting vigorously. Soon
enough, however, Judas discovered that,
by some invisible and inscrutable decree,
he was slave to Ben, and Ben became aware
that he was rightful master to Judas. The
conditions adjusted themselves to the lives
of the boys in a most peculiar way. The
twain became almost inseparable, and grew
up so intimately that Judas looked like the
black shadow of Ben. If one rode a horse,
the other rode a mule; if the white boy
habitually set his hat far back on his head,
the negro did the same ; if Ben went swim-
ming or fishing, 'there went Judas also.
And yet Ben was forever scolding Judas
36 BEN AND JUDAS
and threatening to whip him, a proceeding
treated quite respectfully and as a matter
of course by the slave. Wherever they
went Ben walked a pace or two in advance
of Judas, who followed, however, with ex-
actly the consequential air of his master,
and with a step timed to every peculiarity
observable in the pace set by his leader.
Ben's father, who became dissipated and
careless after his wife's death, left the boy
to come up rather loosely, and ther^ was
no one to make a note of the constantly
growing familiarity between the two youths;
nor did any person chance to observe how
much alike they were becoming as time
slipped away. Ben's education was neg-
lected, albeit now and again a tutor was
brought to the Wilson place, and some ef-
fort was made to soften the crust of igno-
rance which was forming around the lad's
mind. Stormy and self-willed, with a pe-
culiar facility in the rapid selection and
instantaneous use of the most picturesque
BEN AND JUDAS 37
and outlandish expletives, Ben drove these
adventurous disciples of learning one by-
one from the place, and at length grew to
manhood and to be master of the Wilson
plantation (when his father died) without
having changed in the least the manner of
his i^life. He did not marry, nor did he
think of marriage, but grew stout and
round-shouldered, stormed and raved when
he felt like it, threatened all the negroes,
whipped not one of them, and so went
along into middle life, and beyond, with
Judas treading as exactly as possible in his
They grew prematurely old, these two
men : the master's white hair was matched
by the slave's snowy wool ; they both
walked with a shufHing gait, and their
faces gradually took on a network of
wrinkles ; neither wore any beard. To
this day it remains doubtful which was
indebted most to the other in the matter
of borrowed characteristics. The negro
38 BEN AND JUDAS
hoarded up the white man's words, espe-
cially the polysyllabic ones, and in turn the
white man adopted in an elusive, modified
way the negro's pronunciation and ges-
tures. If the African apostatized and fell
away from the grace of a savage taste to
like soda biscuits and very sweet coffee,
the American of Scotch descent dropped
so low in barbarity that he became a con-
firmed 'possum-eater. Ben Wilson could
read after a fashion, and had a taste for
romance of the swashbuckler, kidnap-a-
heroine sort. Judas was a good listener,
as his master mouthed these wonderful
stories aloud, and his hereditary Congo
imagination, crude but powerful, was fed
and strengthened by the pabulum thus
It was a picture worth seeing, worth
sketching in pure colors and setting in an
imperishable frame, that group, the master,
the slave, and the dog Chawm. Chawm is
a name boiled down from " chew them ; "
BEN AND JUDAS 39
as a Latin commentator would put it :
chew them, vel chaw them, vel chaw 'em,
vel chawm. He was a copperas-yellow cur
of middle size and indefinite age, who loved
to lie at the feet of his two masters and
snap at the flies. This trio, when they
came together for a literary purpose, usu-
ally occupied that part of the old vine-cov-
ered veranda which caught the black after-
noon shade of the Wilson mansion. In
parenthesis let me say that I use this word
mansion out of courtesy, for the house was
small and dilapidated ; the custom of the
country made it a mansion, just as Ben
Wilson was made Colonel Ben.
There they were, the white, the black,
and the dog, enjoying a certain -story of
mediaeval days, about a nameless, terrible
knight-errant who had stolen and borne
away the beautiful Rosamond ; and about
the slender, graceful youth who buckled
his heavy armor on to ride off in melo-
dramatic pursuit. Judas listened with
40 BEN AND JUDAS
eyes half closed and mouth agape ; Chawm
was panting, possibly with excitement, his
red tongue lolling and weltering, and his
kindly brown eyes upturned to watch the
motions of Ben's leisurely lips. There was
a wayward breeze, a desultory satin rustle,
in the vine-leaves. The sky was cloudless,
the red country road hot and dusty, the
mansion all silent within. Some negro
ploughmen were singing plaintively far off
in a cornfield. The eyes of Judas grew
blissfully heavy, closed themselves, his
under jaw fell lower, he snored in a deep,
mellow, well-satisfied key. Ben ceased
reading and looked at the sleepers, for
Chawm, too, had fallen into a light doze.
" Dad blast yer lazy hides ! Wake erp
yer, er I '11 thrash ye till ye don't know yer-
selves ! Wake up, I say ! " Ben's voice
started echoes in every direction. Chawm
sprung to his feet, Judas caught his breath
with an inward snort and started up, glar-
ing inquiringly at his raging master.
BEN AND JUDAS 4I
" Yer jes' go to that watermillion patch
and git to yer hoein' of them vines mighty
fast, er I '11 whale enough hide off' m yer
to half-sole my boots, yer lazy, good-fer-
nothin', low-down, sleepy-headed, snorin',
flop-yeared" — He hesitated, rummaged
in his memory for yet another adjective.
Meantime, Judas had scrambled up un-
steadily, and was saying, "Yah sah, yah
sah," as fast as ever he could, and bowing
apologetically while his hands performed
rapid deprecatory gestures.
" Move off, I say ! " thundered Ben.
Chawm, with his tail between his legs,
followed Judas, who went in search of his
hoe, and soon after the negro was heard
singing a camp-meeting song over in the
melon patch : —
" Ya-a-as, my mother 's over yander,
Ya-a-as, my mother 's over yander,
Ya-a-as, my mother 's over yander,
On de Oder sho'."
To any casual observer who for a series
42 BEN AND JUDAS
of years had chanced now and again to see
these twain, it must have appeared that
Ben Wilson's chief aim in life was to
storm at Judas, and that Judas, not daring
to respond in kind directly to the voluble
raging of his master, lived for the sole pur-
pose of singing religious songs and heap-
ing maledictions on Bolus, his mule. If
Ben desired his horse saddled and brought
to him, he issued the order somewhat as
follows : —
" Judas ! Hey there, ye ole hump-
backed scamp ! How long air ye a-goin'
to be a-fetchin' me that boss ? Hurry up !
Step lively, er I '11 tie ye up an' jest whale
the whole skin off'm ye ! Trot lively, I
Really, what did Judas care if Ben spoke
thus to him? The master never had struck
the slave in anger since the days when
they enjoyed the luxury of their childish
fisticuffs. These threats were the merest
mouthing, and Judas knew it very well.
BEN AND JUDAS 43
"Yah, dar! Yo' Bolus! yo' ole rib-
nosed, so'-eyed, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed
t'ief ! I jes' wa' yo' out wid er fence-rail,
ef yo' don' step pow'ful libely now; sho's
yo' bo'n I jest will ! "
This was the echo sent back from the
rickety stables by Judas to the ears of his
master, who sat smoking his short pipe on
the sunken veranda under his vine and
close to his gnarled fig-tree. The voice was
meant to sound very savage ; but in spite
of Judas it would be melodious and unim-
pressive, a mere echo and nothing more, —
vox, et prceterea nihil.
Ben always chuckled reflectively when
he heard Judas roaring like that. He
could not have said just why he chuckled ;
perhaps it was mere force of habit.
" Dad blast that fool nigger ! " he would
mutter below his breath. " Puts me in
mind of a hongry mule a-brayin' fer fodder.
I '11 skin 'im alive fer it yet."
" Confoun' Mars' Ben ! Better keep he
44 BEN AND JUDAS
ole mouf shet," Judas would growl ; but
neither ever heard the side remarks of the
other. Indeed, in a certain restricted and
abnormal way they were very tender of
each other's feelings. The older they grew
the nearer came these two men together.
It was as if, setting out from widely sepa-
rated birthrights, they had journeyed to-
wards the same end, and thus, their paths
converging, they were at last to lie down
in graves dug side by side.
But no matter if their cradle was a com-
mon one, and notwithstanding that their
footsteps kept such even time, Ben was
master, Judas slave. They were differen-
tiated at this one point, and at another,
the point of color, irrevocably, hopelessly.
As other differences were sloughed; as
atom by atom their lines blended together;
as strange attachments, like the feelers
of vines, grew between them ; and as the
license of familiarity took possession of
them more and more, the attitude of the
BEN AND JUDAS 45
master partook of tyranny in a greater de-
gree. I use the word " attitude," because
it expresses precisely my meaning. Ben
Wilson's tyranny was an attitude, nothing
more. Judas never had seen the moment
when he was afraid of his master ; still,
there was a line over which he dared not
step — the line of downright disobedience.
In some obscure way the negro felt the
weakness of the white man's character,
from which a stream of flashing, rumbling
threats had poured for a lifetime ; he knew
that Ben Wilson was a harmless blusterer,
who was scarcely aware of his own windy
utterances, and yet he hesitated to admit
that he knew it — nay, he forced himself
to be proud of his master's prodigious tem-
peramental expansions. He felt his own
importance in the world barely below that
of the man who owned him, and deep in
his old heart stirred the delicious dream of
freedom. What a dream ! Amorphous as
a cloud, and rosy as ever morning vapor
46 BEN AND JUDAS
was, it informed his soul with vague, haunt-
ing perfumes and nameless strains of song.
Strange that so crude a being could absorb
such an element into the innermost tis-
sues of his life! Judas had a conscience,
rudimentary indeed, but insistent, which
gnawed him frightfully at times ; not for
stealing, — he was callous to that, — but
for rebellion, which he could not cast out
of him entirely. Occasionally he solilo-
quized : —
" Ef I could jest be de mars' erwhile
an' Mars' Ben be de nigger, bress de good
Lor', but would n't I jest mor' 'n mek 'im
bounce erroun' one time ! Sorty fink I 'd
wake 'im up afore day, an' would n't I cuss
'im an' 'buse 'im an' rah an' cha'ge at 'im
tell he know 'zactly how it was hese'f!
Yo' may say so, honey, dat yo' may ! "
Following treasonable thoughts like
these came bitings by the hot teeth of the
poor slave's conscience, all the deeper and
cruder by contrast with the love forever
BEN AND JUDAS 4/
upgushing to be lavished on his truly in-
dulgent, but strongly exasperating master.
" Lor', do forgib po' ole Judas," he
would pray, " kase he been er jokin' ter he-
se'f 'bout er pow'ful ticklish ci'cumstance,
sho' 's yo' bo'n. Lor' ; an' he no business
trompin' roun' er ole well in de night. Git
he neck broke, sho' ! "
Notwithstanding conscience and prayer,
however, the thought grew clearer and
waxed more vigorous in the heart of Ju-
das as the years slipped by and Ben gradu-
ally increased his scolding. The more he
fought it the closer clung to him the vision
of that revolution which would turn him
on top and Ben below, if but for a few mo-
ments of delirious triumph.
"Lor', but wouldn't Mars' Ben hate 'r
hab dis ole nigger er cha'gin' an' er rantin'
an' er yellin' at 'im, an' jest er cussin' 'im
like de berry debil fo' eberyt'ing 'at 's
mean, an' de sweat jest er rollin' off 'm, an'
'im jest eberlastin'ly an' outlandishly er
48 BEN AND JUDAS
gibbin' 'im de limmer jaw fo' he laziness
an' he dog-gone general no 'countness !
Ef dat would n't be satisfactionel ter dis
yer darkey, den I dunno nuffin' 't all 'bout
it. Dat 's his way er doin' me, an' it seem
lak my time orter be comin' erlong poorty
soon ter do 'im dat er way er leetle, debil
take de nigger ef it don't ! "
In good truth, however, Judas had no
right to complain of hard work; he did
not earn his salt. A large part of the time
he and his master occupied with angling
in the rivulet hard by, wherein catfish were
the chief game. Side by side on the sandy
bank of the stream the twain looked like
two frogs ready to leap into the water, so
expectant and eager were their wrinkled
faces and protruding eyes ; so com.ically
set akimbo their arms and legs. With
little art they cast and recast their clumsy
bait of bacon-rind, exchanging few words,
but enjoying, doubtless, a sense of subtile
companionship peculiarly satisfying.
BEN AND JUDAS 49
"Airy a bite, Judas?"
" No, sah."
" Too lazy to keep yer hook baited ? "
" No, sah."
A while of silence, the river swashing
dreamily, the sunshine shimmering far
along the slowly lapsing current; then Ju-
das begins humming a revival tune.
" Shet yer mouth ; stop that infernal
howling, yer blasted old eejit, er I '11 take
this yer fish-pole an' I '11 nat'rally lam the
life out of ye ! " storms the master. " Ye '11
scare all the fish till they '11 go clean to the
Gulf of Mexico. Hain't ye got a triffin' of
sense left ? "
The slave sulks in silence. Ten minutes
later Ben takes out a plug of bright, greasy-
looking navy tobacco, and after biting off
a liberal chew says in a very soft voice : —
" Here, Jude, try some of my tobacker,
an' maybe yer luck '11 change."
Judas fills his cheek with the comfort-
ing weed and gazes with expectant con-
50 BEN AND JUDAS
tentment into the stream, but the luck con-
tinues much the same. The wind may
blow a trifle sweeter, fluting an old Pan-
pipe tune in a half-whisper through the
fringe of shining reeds, and the thrushes
may trill suddenly a strange, soft phrase
from the dark foliage of the grove hard by;
still, in blissful ignorance of the voices of
nature and all unaware of their own pic-
turesqueness, without a nibble to encour-
age them, the two white-haired men watch
away the golden afternoon. At last, just
as Judas has given up and is winding his
line around his pole, Ben yanks out a
slimy, wriggling, prickly catfish, and his
round face flings forth through its screen
of wrinkles a spray of sudden excitement.
" Grab 'im, Judas ! Grab 'im, ye lubberly
old lout ye ! What ye doin' a-grinnin' an'
a-gazin' an' that fish a-floppin' right back
— grab 'im ! If ye do let 'im get away, I '11
break yer old neck an' pull out yer back-
bone — grab 'im, I say ! "
BEN AND JUDAS 5 1
Judas scrambles after the fish, sprawling
and grabbing, while it actively flops about
in the sand. It spears him cruelly till the
red blood is spattered over his great rusty
black hands, but he captures it finally and
puts a stick through its gills.
On many and many an afternoon they
trudged homeward together in the soften-
ing light, Judas carrying both rods on his
shoulder, the bait-cups in his hands, and
the string of fish, if there were any, dangling
somewhere about his squat person. The
black man might have been the incarnate
shadow of the white one, so much were
they alike in everything but color. Even
to a slight limp of the left leg, their move-
ments were the same. Each had a pecu-
liar fashion of setting his right elbow at a
certain angle, and of elevating slightly the
right shoulder. Precisely alike sat their
well-worn straw hats far over on the back
of their heads.
It was in the spring of i860 that Ben
52 BEN AND JUDAS
took the measles and came near to death.
Judas nursed his master with a faithfulness
that knew not the shadow of abatement
until the disease had spent its force and
Ben began to convalesce. With the turn
of the tide which bore him back from the
shore of death the master recovered his
tongue, and grew refractory and abusive in-
versely as the negro was silent and obedi-
ent. He exhausted upon poor Judas, over
and over again, the vocabulary of vitupera-
tive epithets at his command. When Ben
was quite well Judas lay down with the
" A nigger with the measles ! Well, I '11
be dern ! Ye 're gone, Jude, — gone fer
sure. Measles nearly always kills a nigger,
an' ye mought es well begin ter wall up
yer eyes an' wiggle yer toes."
Ben uttered these consoling words as he
entered his old slave's cabin and stood be-
side the low bed. " Not much use ter do
anythin' fer ye's I know of — bound ter
BEN AND JUDAS 53
go this time. Don't ye feel a sort of dyin'
sensation in yer blamed old bones al-
ready ? "
But Judas was nursed by his master as
a child by its mother. Never was man
|l; better cared for night and day. Ben's
whole life for the time was centred in the
one thought of saving the slave. In this
he was absolutely unselfish and at last
As Judas grew better, after the crisis
was passed, he did not fail to follow his
master's example and make himself as
troublesome as possible. Nothing was
good enough for him ; none of his food
was properly prepared or served, his bed
was not right, he wanted water from a cer-
tain distant spring, he grumbled at Ben
without reason, and grew more abusive
and personal daily. At last, one afternoon
Ben came out of the cabin with a very
peculiar look on his face. He stopped as
he left the threshold, and with his hands in
54 BEN AND JUDAS
his trousers' pockets and his head thrown
back he whistled a low, gentle note.
" Well, I '11 everlastin'ly jest be dad
burned ! " he exclaimed. Then he puffed
out his wrinkled cheeks till they looked
like two freckled bladders. " Who 'd 'a'
thought it ! " He chuckled long and low,
looking down at his boots and then up at
the sky. " Cussed me ! Cussed me ! The
blame old rooster a-cussin' me ! Don't
seem possible, but he did all the same.
Gamest nigger I ever seen ! "
It must have been a revelation to the
master when the old slave actually swore
at him and cursed him vigorously. Ben
went about chuckling retrospectively and
muttering to himself: —
" The old coon he cussed me !"
Next day for dinner Judas had chicken
pie and dumplings, his favorite pot, and
Ben brought some old peach brandy from
the cellar and poured it for him with his
BEN AND JUDAS 55
In due time the negro got well and the
two resumed their old life, a little feebler,
a trifle more stoop in their shoulders, their
voices huskier, but yet quite as happy as
The watermelon - patch has ever been
the jewel on the breast of the Georgia plan-
tation. " What is home without a water-
melon?" runs the well-known phrase, and
in sooth what cool, delicious suggestions
run with it! Ben and Judas each had a
patch, year in and year out. Not that Ben
ever hoed in his; but he made Judas keep
it free of weeds. Here was a source of
trouble ; for invariably the negro's patch
was better, the melons were the larger and
finer. Scold and storm and threaten as
he might, Ben could not change this, nor
could he convince his slave that there was
anything at all strange in the matter.
" How I gwine fin' out 'bout what mek
yo' watermillions so runty an' so scrunty ? "
Judas exclaimed. " Hain't I jest hoed 'em
56 BEN AND JUDAS
an' ploughed 'em an' took care ob em an'
try ter mek 'em do somefin' ? But dey jest
kinder wommux an' squommux erlong an'
don't grow wof er dern ! I jest sw'a' I
can't holp it, Mars' Ben, e£ yo' got no luck
erbout yo' nohow ! Watermillions grows
ter luck, not ter de hoe."
" Luck ! Luck ! " bawled Ben, shaking
his fist at the negro. " Luck ! yer old
lump er lamp-black — yer old, lazy, sneakin'
scamp ! I '11 show ye about luck ! Ef I
don't have a good patch of watermillions
next year I '11 skin ye alive, see ef I don't,
ye old villain ye !"
It was one of Ben's greatest luxuries to
sit on the top rail of the worm-fence which
inclosed the melon-patch, his own partic-
ular patch, and superintend the hoeing
thereof. To Judas this was a bitter ordeal,
and its particular tang grew more offensive
year by year, as the half-smothered longing
to be master, if but for a moment, gripped
his imagination closer and closer.
BEN AND JUDAS 57
" Ef I jest could set up dah on dat fence
an' cuss 'im while he hoed, an' ef I jest
could one time see 'im er hus'lin' erroun'
w'en I tole 'im, dis nigger 'd be ready ter die
right den. Lor', I 'd give it to 'im good ! "
Any observer a trifle sharper than Ben
would have read Judas's thoughts as he
ruminated thus ; but Ben was not a student
of human nature, — or, for that matter, any
other nature, — and he scolded away merely
to give vent to the pressure of habit.
One morning, when the melon vines
were young, — it must have been late in
April, — Judas leaned on his hoe-handle,
and looking up at Ben, who sat on the
fence top, as usual, smoking his short pipe,
he remarked : —
*' Don' ye yer dat mockin'-bird er tee-
diddlin' an' er too-doodlin', Mars' Ben ? "
" I '11 tee-diddle an' too-doodle ye, ef ye
don't keep on a-hoein', " raged Ben. " This
year I 'm bound ter have some big melons,
ef I have ter wear ye out ter do it ! "
58 BEN AND JUDAS
Judas sprung to work, and for about a
minute hoed desperately ; then looking up
again he said, " De feesh alius bites bestest
w'en de mockin'-birds tee-diddles an' too-
doodles dat way."
Such a flood of abusive eloquence as
Ben now let go upon the balmy morning
air would have surprised and overwhelmed
a less adequately fortified soul than that of
Judas. The negro, however, was well pre-
pared for the onslaught, and received it
with most industrious though indifferent
silence. When the master had exhausted
both his breath and his vocabulary, the
negro turned up his rheumy eyes and sug-
gested that "feesh ain't gwine ter bite eber'
day like day '11 bite ter-day." This remark
was made in a tone of voice expressive of
absent-mindedness, and almost instantly
the speaker added dreamily, leaning on his
hoe again : —
" Time do crawl off wid a feller's life
pow'ful fast, Mars' Ben. Seem lak yistyd'y,
BEN AND JUDAS 59
or day 'foer yistyd'y, 'at we 's leetle beety
boys. Don' yo' 'member w'en ole Bolus
— dat fust Bolus, I mean — done went an'
kick de lof ' outer de new stable ? We 's er
gittin' pooty ole, Mars' Ben, pooty ole, ain't
" Yea, an' we '11 die an' be buried an'
resurrected, ye old vagabond ye, before ye
get one hill of this here patch hoed!"
roared Ben. Judas did not move, but, wag-
ging his head in a dreamy way, said : —
" I 'members one time " — here he chuc-
kled softly — "I 'members one time w'en
we had er fight an' I whirped yo' ; made
yo' yelp out an' say ''Nough, 'nough!
Take 'im off! ' an' Moses, how I wus er
linkin' it ter yo' wid bof fists ter onct! Dose
yo' rickermember dat. Mars' Ben ? "
Ben remembered. It was when they
were little children, before Judas had found
out his hereditary limitation, and before
Ben had dreamed of asserting the supe-
riority inherent in his blood. Somehow
60 BEN AND JUDAS
the retrospect filled the master's vision in-
stantly with a sort of Indian-summer haze
of tenderness. He forgot to scold. For
some time there was silence, save that the
mocking-bird poured forth a song as rich
and plaintive as any ever heard by Sappho
under the rose-bannered garden walls of
Mitylene; then Judas, with sudden energy,
exclaimed : —
" Mars' Ben, yo' nebber did whirp me,
Ben, having lapsed into retrospective
distance, did not heed the negro's interro-
gation, but sat there on the fence with his
pipe-stem clamped between his teeth. He
was smiling in a mild, childish way.
" No," added Judas, answering his own
question — " no, yo' nebber whirped me in
yo' life; but I whirped yo' onct like de
berry debil, did n't I, Mars' Ben } "
Ben's hat was far back on his head, and
his thin, white hair shone like silver floss
on his wrinkled forehead, — the expression
BEN AND JUDAS 6l
of his face that of silly delight in a barren
and commonplace reminiscence.
" Mars' Ben, I wants ter ax one leetle
fabor ob yo'."
The master clung to his distance and his
" Hey dar ! Mars' Ben ! "
" Well, what yer want, yer old scare-
crow ? " inquired Ben, pulling himself to-
gether and yawning so that he dropped his
pipe, which Judas quickly restored to him.
" Well, Mars' Ben, 't ain't much w'at I
wants, but I 's been er wantin' it seem lak
er thousan' years."
Ben began to look dreamy again.
" I wants ter swap places wid yo'. Mars'
Ben, dat 's w'at I wants," continued Judas,
speaking rapidly, as if forcing out the
words against heavy pressure of restraint.
" I wants ter set up dah on dat fence, an'
yo' git down yer an' I cuss yo', an' yo' jest
hoe like de debil — dat 's w'at I wants."
It was a slow process by which Judas at
62 BEN AND JUDAS
last forced upon his master's comprehen-
sion the preposterous proposition for a
temporary exchange of situations. Ben
could not understand it fully until it had
been insinuated into his mind particle by
particle, so to speak; for the direct method
failed wholly, and the wily old African
resorted to subtile suggestion and elusive
supposititious illustration of his desire.
" We 's been er libin' tergedder lo ! des
many ye'rs, Mars' Ben, an' did I eber 'fuse
ter do anyfing 'at yo' axed me ? No, sah,
I neber did. Sort er seem lak yo' mought
do jest dis one leetle 'commodation fo'
Ben began to grin in a sheepish, half-
fascinated way as the proposition gradually
took hold of his imagination. How would
it feel to be a "nigger " and have a master
over him ? What sort of sensation would
it afford to be compelled to do implicitly
the will of another, and that other a queru-
lous and conscienceless old sinner like
BEN AND JUDAS 6$
Judas ? The end of it was that he slid
down from his perch and took the hoe,
while Judas got up and sat on the fence.
"Han' me dat pipe," was the first per-
Ben winced, but gave up the coveted
" Now, den, yo' flop-yeared, bandy-
shanked, hook nosed, freckle-faced, wall-
eyed, double-chinned, bald-headed, hump-
shoul'ered " —
" Come, now, Judas," Ben interrupted,
" I won't Stan' no sech langwidges " —
" Hoi' on dah. Mars' Ben," cried Judas
in an injured tone. "Yo' p'omised me
yo' 'd do it, an' I knows yo' 's not gwine
back on yo' wo'd ; no Wilson eber do dat."
Ben was abashed. It was true no Wil-
son ever broke a promise. The Wilsons
were men of honor.
" Well, fire away," he said, falling to
work again. " Fire away ! "
" Hussle up, dah ! Hussle up, yo' lazy
64 BEN AND JUDAS
ole vagabon' yo', er I '11 git down f'om
heah, an' I '11 w'ar out ebery hic'ry sprout
in de county on yo' ole rusty back ! Git
erlong ! — hurry up ! — faster ! Don' yo'
heah ? Ef I do come down dah I '11 jes'
nat 'rally comb yo' head tell ebery ha'r on
it '11 sw'ar de day ob judgment done come !
I '11 wa'm yo' jacket tell de dus' er comin'
out'n it '11 look lak a sto'm-cloud ! Wiggle
faster, er I '11 yank out yo' backbone an'
mek er trace-chain out'n it ! Don' yo' heah
Ben heard and obeyed. Never did hoe
go faster, never was soil so stirred and pul-
verized. The sweat sprung from every
pore of the man's skin, it trickled over his
face and streamed from his chin, it satu-
rated his clothes.
Judas was intoxicated with delight ;
almost delirious with the sensation of
freedom and masterhood. His eloquence
increased as the situation affected his
imagination, and his words tumbled forth
BEN AND JUDAS 65
in torrents. Not less was Ben absorbed
and carried away. He was a slave, Judas
was his master, the puppet must wriggle
when the owner pulled the strings. He
worked furiously. Judas forgot to smoke
the pipe, but held it in his hand and made
all sorts of gestures with it.
"Hit dem clods! Mash 'em fine!" he
screamed. " Don' look up, yo' ole poky
tarrypin yo'! Ef yo' does I '11 wommux de
hide off' m yo' blamed ole back faster 'n
forty-seben shoemakers kin peg it on ag'in !
Hussle, I tole yo', er I '11 jest wring yo'
neck an' tie yo' years in er hard knot ! Yo'
heah me now, Ben ? "
This was bad enough, but not the worst,
for Judas used many words and phrases
not permissible in print. He spared no
joint of his master's armor, he left no vul-
nerable point unassailed. The accumulated
riches of a lifetime spent in collecting a pic-
turesque vocabulary, and the stored force
of nearly sixty years given to private prac-
66 BEN AND JUDAS
tice in using it, now served him a full turn.
In the thickest shower of the negro's
mingled threats, commands, and maledic-
tions, however, Ben quit work, and, leaning
on his hoe, panted rapidly. He gazed up
at Judas pathetically and said: —
" How that mockin'-bird does tee-diddle
an' too-doodle ! "
Judas actually stopped short in the mid
career of his eloquence, and Ben added : —
" Never see sich signs for feesh a-bitin';
did you, Judas ? "
The charm was broken, the farce was
ended. A little later the two old men
might have been seen with their bait-cups
and fishing-poles in their hands toddling
along down the slope to the rivulet, the
white leading, the black following. They
were both rather abstracted, it appeared,
for each cast in his hook without any
bacon rind on it, and sat on the stream's
bank all the rest of the forenoon in blissful
expectancy of an impossible nibble.
BEN AND JUDAS 6^
One good came of the little episode at
the melon-patch. The vine around whose
roots Ben had plied the hoe with such
vigor thrived amazingly, and in due time
bore a watermelon of huge size, a grand
spheroid as green as emerald and as richly
soft in surface color as the most costly old
" Got de twin ob it down dah in my
patch," said Judas ; " jestes much like it es
one bean 's like anoder bean. Yo' orter
come down an' see it. Mars Ben."
Ben went, and sure enough, there was a
melon just the duplicate of his own. Of
course, however, he claimed that he saw
some indices of inferiority in Judas's fruit,
but he could n't just point them out — pos-
sibly the rind was not as healthy-looking,
he thought, and then the stem appeared to
be shriveling. Judas, for his part, was
quite sure that his master's melon would
not '* sweeten up " as his would, and that it
would be found lacking in the "jawlee-
68 BEN AND JUDAS
ciousness " and that " fo'-de-Lor'-sake-hand-
me-some-moreness " so characteristic of
those of his own raising.
Ben's pride in his melon matured and
ripened at the same time with the maturing
and ripening of that wonderful globule of
racy pulp and juice whose core he longed
to see. After so many failures, here at last
was his triumph. There was a certain dan-
ger connected with plucking this melon.
It was of a variety locally called "ice-rind"
on account of the thickness of the outer
part or shell which made it very difificult to
know when it was ripe, and so Ben dreaded
to act. Every evening in the latest dusk
of twilight he would go out and lean over
the patch fence to have a darkling view of
his treasure, which thus seen was mightily
When the moment of sacrifice had come,
Ben actually shrunk from the task of pluck-
ing that melon. He leaned on the fence
until it was quite dark and until the moon
BEN AND JUDAS 69
had begun to show in the east before he
bethought him that that night was Judas 's
birth-night, and then a bright idea came to
him. He would take the melon to the old
slave's cabin and they would have a feast.
But when he had climbed over the fence
and had stooped above the huge dusky
sphere, his heart failed him, and at the
same time another thought struck him with
great force. He straightened himself up,
placed his hands on his hips, and chuckled.
Just the thing ! The best joke on Judas !
He would go to the negro's patch, steal his
big melon, and share it with him on the
His own melon he would keep a few
days longer to be sure that it had ripened.
A very simple proceeding, without a
thought of dishonor in it.
It was as beautiful and balmy a midsum-
mer night as ever fell upon the world.
Ben felt its soft influence in his old blood
as he toddled surreptitiously along the
70 BEN AND JUDAS
path leading through a little wood to Ju-
das's cabin and patch. He was picturing
in his mind how foolish Judas would look
and how beaten he would feel when he
found out that he had been feasting on his
own big melon. One might have seen by
the increasing light of the moon that Ben's
trelliswork of facial wrinkles could scarcely
hold in the laughing glee that was in him,
and his eyes twinkled while his mouth drew
itself on to a set, suppressed smile. Chawm
trotted along silently at Ben's heels, his
tail drooping and his ears hanging limp.
In the distance, amid the hills, an owl was
hooting dolefully, but the little wood was
as silent as the grave. Suddenly Ben heard
a footfall coming up the path, and he
slipped into the bushes just in time to let
Judas go shuffling by all unaware.
" The blamed old rooster," he said to
himself in a tender, affectionate whisper.
" The blamed old rooster ! I wonder what
he 's a-thinkin' about jest now ? "
BEN AND JUDAS 71
Chawm slipped out and fell noiselessly
behind Judas, following him on towards the
mansion. Ben chuckled with deep satis-
faction as he climbed over into Judas's
patch and laid hands on the negro's large
melon. What a typical thief he appeared
as he hurried furtively along, stooping low
with his ill-gotten load, his crooked shadow
dancing vaguely beside him ! Over the
fence he toiled with difficulty, the melon
was so heavy and slippery ; then along the
path. Once in the shadowy wood, he laid
down his burden and wiped his dewy face
with his sleeve. He did not realize how
excited he was ; it was the first time in all
his life that he had ever stolen anything
even in fun. Every little sound startled
him and made him pant. He felt as if
running as fast as his legs could carry him
would be the richest of all luxuries.
When again he picked up the melon and
resumed his way he found his heart flutter-
ing and his limbs weak, but he hurried on.
72 BEN AND JUDAS
Suddenly he halted, with a black appari-
tion barring the path before him.
"Judas! you old coon!"
" Mars' Ben ! "
They leaned forward and glared at each
" Mars' Ben ! Yo' been er stealin' my
watermillion ! "
"Judas! You thieven' old rooster ! You
've stole" —
Their voices blended, and such a mix-
ture ! The wood resounded. They stood
facing each other, as much alike as dupli-
cates in everything save color, each clasp-
ing in his arms the other's watermelon. It
was a moment of intense surprise, of volu-
ble swearing, of picturesque posturing;
then followed a sudden collapse and down
fell both great, ripe, luscious spheres with
a dull, heavy bump, breaking open on the
ground and filling the air with a spray of
sweet juice and the faint luxuriant aroma
so dear to Georgian nostrils. Chawm
BEN AND JUDAS f3
stepped forward and sniffed idly and in-
differently at one of the pieces. A little
screech-owl mewed plaintively in the bush
hard by. Both men, having exhausted
themselves simultaneously, began to sway
and tremble, their legs slowly giving way
under them. The spot of moonlight in
which they stood lent a strange effect to
their bent and faltering forms. Judas had
been more or less a thief all his life, but
this was the first time he had ever been
caught in the act, therefore he was as
deeply shocked as was Ben. Down they
sank until they sat flat on the ground in
the path and facing each other, the broken
melons between them. Chawm took posi-
tion a little to one side and looked on
gravely, as if he felt the solemnity of the
Judas was first to speak.
" Well, I jest be 'sentially an' eberlast-
" Shet up ! " stormed Ben.
74 BEN AND JUDAS
They looked sheepishly at each other,
while Chawm licked his jaws with perfunc-
tory nonchalance. After what seemed a
very long silence, Ben said : —
" Jude, ax a blessin' afore we eats."
" Did ye hear what I was a-sayin' for yer
to do ? " inquired Ben. " Ax a blessin', I
say ! " The negro bowed his old snow-
fleeced head and prayed : —
"Lor', hab mercy on two ole villyans
an' w'at dey done steal f'om one 'nudder.
Spaycially, Lor', forgib Mars' Ben, kase he
rich an' free an' he orter hab mo' honah
'bout 'im 'an ter steal f'om po' nigger, I
used to fink. Lor', dat Mars' Ben 's er mighty
good man, but seem lack yer lately he git-
tin' so on'ry 'at yo' '11 be erbleeged ter
hannel 'im pooty sabage ef he keep on.
Dey may be 'nough good lef in 'im ter pay
fer de trouble ob foolin' 'long wid 'im, but
hit 's pow'ful doubtful, an' dat 's er fac'.
Lor', I don't advise yo' ter go much outer
BEN AND JUDAS 75
yo' way ter 'commodate sich er outdacious
old sneak-t'ief an' sich er " —
" Judas ! " roared Ben, " yer jest stop
right now ! "
" An' bress dese watermillions w'at we 's
erbout ter receib, amen ! " concluded Judas.
*' Try er piece er dis here solid core, Mars'
Ben ; hit look mighty jawleecious."
And so there in the space of moonlight
they munched, with many watery mouth-
ings, the sweet central hearts of the pil-
fered fruit. All around them the birds
stirred in their sleep, rustling the leaves
and letting go a few dreamy chirps. Over-
head a great rift uncovered the almost
They did not converse while they were
eating, but when the repast was ended Ju-
das apologized and explained in their joint
" Yo' see. Mars' Ben, I 's yo' nigger an'
yo' 's my marster. W'at 's yo's is mine, an'
w'at's mine's yo's; see? an' hit ain't no
76 BEN AND JUDAS
mo' harm 'an nothin' fo' us ter steal f'om
one 'nudder. Lor', Mars' Ben, I been er
knowin' all my life 'at I was er stealin' f'om
yo' ; but I nebber dream 'at it was yo' 'at
was er takin' all er my bestest watermillions
an' t'ings. 'Spec' we 's 'bout eben now,
Mars' Ben. Ef yo 's a leetle bit ahead ob
me I 's not er keerin' ; hit 's all right."
So they wiped their mouths and parted
for the night.
" Good-night, Mars' Ben."
" Good-night, Judas."
It would be cruel to follow them farther
down the road of life, for rheumatism came,
and then the war. Many an afternoon the
trio, Ben, Judas, and Chawm, sat on the old
veranda and listened to the far-off thunder
of battle, not fairly realizing its meaning,
but feeling that in some vague way it meant
a great deal. After war, peace. After
peace, reconstruction. After reconstruc-
tion, politics. Somebody took the trouble
to insist upon having Ben Wilson go to
BEN AND JUDAS 77
the polls and vote. Of course Judas went
with him. What a curious looking twain
they were, tottering along, almost side by
side now, their limbs trembling and their
eyes nearly blind !
" Got yer ticket, Jude ? " inquired Ben.
" No, sah, dat 's all right. Yo' jest drap
one in, hit '11 do fo' bofe ob us," answered
Judas. And it was done.
They died a year ago. Their graves
are side by side, and so close together that
a single slab might serve to cover them
both. If I were rich it should be an im-
perishable monument, inscribed simply: —
BEN AND JUDAS,
Aet. Seventy Years, One Month, and Fourteen
Where the great line of geologic up-
heaval, running down from Virginia
through North Carolina, Tennessee, and
Georgia, finally breaks up into a hopeless
confusion of variously trending ridges and
spurs, there is a region of country some-
what north of the centre of Alabama, called
by the inhabitants thereof " The Sand
Mounting."" It is a wild, out-of-the way,
little-known country, whose citizens have
kept alive in their mountain fastnesses
nearly all that backwoods simplicity- and
narrowness of ambition peculiar to their
ancestors, who came mostly from the Caro-
linas, in the early part of the present cen-
tury, following the mountain lines in their
migrations, as fish follow streams. They
are honest and virtuous, as mountain folk
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 79
usually are, rather frugal and simple than
industrious and enterprising, knowing no-
thing of books, and having very indefinite
information touching the doings of the great
world whose tides of action foam around
their mountain-locked valleys like an ocean
around some worthless island. They have
heard of railroads, but many of them have
never seen one. They do not take news-
papers, they turn their backs upon mission-
aries, and they nurse a high disdain for the
clothes and ways of city folk. Most of
them are farmers in a small way, raising a
little corn and wheat, a " patch " of cotton
now and then, a few vegetables, and a
great deal of delicious fruit.
In the days of secession the men of
Sand Mountain were not zealous in the
Southern cause, nor were they, on the other
hand, willing to do battle for the Union.
So it happened that when the Confederate
authorities began a system of conscription,
Sand Mountain was not a healthful place
8o HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
for enrolling officers, many of whom never
returned therefrom to report the number
of eligible men found in remote valleys
and *' Pockets."
One citizen of the mountain became no-
torious, if not strictly famous, during the
war. His name was Riley Hodson, better
known as Gineral Hodson, though he had
never been a soldier. He may have been
rather abnormally developed to serve as a
representative Sand Mountain figure in
this or any other sketch of that region.
The reader may gather from the following
outlines of Hodson's character, drawn by
certain of his neighbors, a pretty fair idea
of what the picture would be when filled
out and properly shaded and lighted.
" Gineral Hodson air not jest ezactly
what ye 'd call a contrary man, but he 's a
mighty p'inted an' a orful sot in 'is way sort
o' a feller," said Sandy Biddle, who stood
six feet two in his home-made shoes, and
weighed scarcely one hundred and twenty
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 8l
pounds, " an' ef anybody air enjoyin' any
oncommon desire for a fight, he may call on
the gineral with a reas'nable expectation of
a-ketchin' double-barrel thunder an' hair-
" He never hev be'n whirpt," observed
old Ben Iley, himself the hero of some
memorable rough-and-tumble fights, " an'
he hev managed ter hev his own way, in
spite o' 'ell an' high water, all over the
mounting for mor' 'n forty year ter my sar-
" When it come ter doctrin', es the scrip-
ter p'intedly do show it, he kin preach all
round any o' yer meth'dist bible-bangers
'at ever I see, don't keer ef ye do call 'im
a Hardshell an' a Forty-gallon, an' a' Iron-
Jacket Baptus," was Wes Beasley's trib-
ute ; " an' I kin f urder say," he added, cut-
ting a quid from a twist of Sand Mountain
tobacco and lodging it in his jaw, " 'at Gin-
eral Hodson air hones', an' when he air a
feller's frien' he air a good un, an' when he
82 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
don't like ye, then hit air about time fer ye
ter git up an brin'le out'n the mounting."
Turning from these verbal sketches to
look at Riley Hodson himself, we shall
find him leaning on the rickety little gate
in front of his rambling log house. In
height he is six feet three, broad-shouldered,
strong -limbed, rugged, grizzled, harsh-
faced, unkempt. He "looks like the em-
bodiment of obstinacy. Nor is he out of
place as a figure in the landscape around
him. Nature was in no soft mood when
she gave birth to Sand Mountain, and, in
this particular spot, such labor as Riley
Hodson had bestowed on its betterment
had rendered the offspring more unsightly.
Some yellowish clay fields, washed into
ruts by the mountain rains, lay at all sorts
of angles with the horizon ; the fences
were grown over with sassafras bushes and
sour-grape vines, and there was as small
evidence of any fertility of soil as there
was of careful or even intelligent hus-
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 83
bandry. It was in the spring of 1875, ten
years after the close of the war, that Riley
Hodson leaned on that gate and gazed up
the narrow mountain trail at a man com-
" Hit air a peddler," he muttered to him-
self, taking the short-stemmed pipe from
his mouth with a grimace of the most
dogged dislike, — "hit air a peddler, an' ef
them weeming ever git ther eyes sot onto
'im hit air good-by ter what money I hev
on han', to a dead sartingty."
He opened the gate and passed through,
going slowly along the trail to meet the
coming stranger. Once or twice he
glanced furtively back over his shoulder to
see if his wife or daughter might chance to
be looking after him from the door of the
old house. He walked, in the genuine
mountain fashion, with long, loose strides,
his arms swinging awkwardly at his sides,
and his head thrust forward, with his chin
elevated and his shoulders drawn up. He
84 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
soon came face to face with a young man
of rather small stature and pleasing fea-
tures, who carried a little pack on the end
of a short fowling-piece swung across his
Hodson had made up his mind to drive
this young adventurer back, thinking him
an itinerant peddler ; but a strange look
came into the old man's face, and he
stopped short with a half-frightened start
and a dumb gesture of awe and surprise.
The stranger, David D'Antinac by name,
and an ornithologist by profession, was a
little startled by this sudden apparition ;
for Riley Hodson at best was not prepos-
sessing in appearance, and he glared so
strangely, and his face had such an ashy
pallor in it, that the strongest heart might
have shrunk and trembled at confronting
him in a lonely mountain trail.
" Well, ye blamed little rooster ! " ex-
claimed Hodson in a breathless way, after
staring for a full minute.
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 85
D'Antinac recoiled perceptibly, with
some show of excitement in his face. He
was well aware that he was in a region not
held well in hand by the law, and he had
been told many wild tales of this part of
" Ye blamed little rooster ! " repeated
the old man, taking two or three short
backward steps, as if half alarmed and half
meditating a sudden leap upon D'Antinac,
who now summoned voice enough to say :
" How do you do, sir ? "
Such a smile as one might cast upon the
dead — a white, wondering, fearful smile
— spread over Hodson's face. It seemed
to D'Antinac that this smile even leaped
from the face and ran like a ghastly flash
across the landscape. He will remember
it as long as he lives.
"W'y, Dave, er thet you?" Hodson
asked, in a harsh, tremulous tone, taking
still another backward step.
" My name is certainly David, but I
86 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
guess you don't know me," said D'Anti-
nac, with an effort at an easy manner.
" Don't know ye, ye pore little rooster !
Don't know ye ! W'y, Dave, are ye come
ag'in ? " The old man wavered and fal-
tered, as if doubtful whether to advance or
retreat. " Don't know ye ? " he repeated.
"W'y, Dave, don t you know meF Hev
ye furgot the ole man ? "
" I beg your pardon, sir, but I believe I
never saw you before in my life," said
D'Antinac, lowering his little pack to the
ground and leaning on his gun. " You
are certainly laboring under some mistake."
" Never seed me afore ! " cried Hodson,
his voice showing a rising belligerency.
" Ye blamed little rooster, none o' yer fool-
in', fer I won't stand it. I '11 jes nat'rally
w'ar ye out ef ye come any o' that air."
Hodson now advanced a step or two
with threatening gestures. Quick as light-
ning, D'Antinac flung up his gun and
leveled it, his face growing very pale.
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 8/
" Another step," he cried excitedly, " and
1 11 shoot two holes through you ! "
Hodson stopped and said in a deprecat-
ing tone : —
" W'y, Dave, ye would n't shoot yer
daddy, would ye, Dave ? "
" If you run onto me I '11 shoot you,''
was the firm response.
" W'y, ye blasted mean little rooster ! "
thundered Hodson, and before D'Antinac
in his excitement could pull trigger, the
old man had him down and was sitting
astride of him, as he lay at full length on
his back. " Now I '11 jest nat'rally be
dinged, Dave, ef I don't whirp ever' last
striffin o' hide off n ye ef ye don't erhave
yerself!" He had both of D'Antinac's
arms clasped in one of his great hands, and
was pressing them so hard against the
young man's breast that he could scarcely
breathe. " Ye nasty little rooster, a-comin'
back an' a-tryin' ter shoot yer pore old
daddy fer nothin'. I '11 jest wear ye out
88 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
an' half-sole ye ag'in ef ye open yer
mouth ! "
D'Antinac lay like a mouse under the
paw of a lion. It was quite impossible
for him to move. The old man's weight
" I 'm er great notion ter pound the very
daylights out'n ye afore I let ye up," Hod-
son continued. " Hit meks me mad 'nuff
fer ter bite ye in two like er tater an' jest
nat'rally chaw up both pieces, on'y ter
think 'at ye 'd deny yer own daddy what 's
larruped ye many a time, an' 'en try ter
shoot 'im ! I 'm teetotally ershamed of ye,
Dave. An' what '11 yer mammy say ? "
D'Antinac was possessed of a quick
mind, and he had schooled it in the art
of making the most of every exigency. He
had been several years in the mountain
regions of the South, and had discovered
that the mountaineers liked nothing bet-
ter than a certain sort of humor, liberally
spiced with their peculiar slang.
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT ^9
" Speaking of biting a tater in two," he
ejaculated rather breathlessly, " reminds
me that I 'm as hungry as a sitting hen.
Have you got anything like a good mellow
iron wedge or a fried pine-knot in your
pocket ? "
Hodson's face softened a little, and he
smiled again, in that half ghastly way, as
he said : —
"Ye dinged little rooster! W'y, Dave,
der ye know the ole man now? Say,
Dave, do ye ? "
" Oh, yes, perfectly ; never knew any
one better in my life," promptly responded
D'Antinac. " Your face is quite familiar,
I assure you. How 're the folks ? "
Hodson chuckled deep down in his
throat, at the same time somewhat relax-
ing his hold on the young man's arms.
" Sarah an' Mandy '11 jes nat'rally go
'stracted over ye, Dave, an' I want ye ter
'have yerself an' come wi' me down ter the
house, like er white boy. This here fool-
90 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
in' 's not gwine ter do ye no good. Ye 've
got to toe the mark, Dave."
" Oh, I'll behave," exclaimed D'Antinac.
" I '11 do whatever you want me to. I was
only joking just now. Let me up; you're
mashing me as flat as a flying-squirrel."
" Well, I don't whant ter hurt ye, but
afore I ever let ye up, ye must promerse
me one thing," said Hodson.
" What is it.? Quick! for you are really
making jelly of me," D'Antinac panted
forth, like Encelados under Sicily.
" Thet ye '11 not deny yer mammy ner
Mandy ; an' ef ye do deny 'em, I '11 jest
nat'rally be blamed ef I don't whale yer
jacket tell ye won't know yer hide from a
meal-sifter. Do ye promerse .? "
" Yes," said D'Antinac, though in fact
he did not understand the old mountain-
eer's meaning. The young man's mother
had died in his babyhood, and he felt safe
in promising never to deny her.
Hodson got up, leaving D'Antinac free
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT QI
to rise ; but the old fellow got possession
of the gun and pack, and then said : —
" Now come 'long home, Dave, an' les'
see what yer mammy an' Mandy '11 say ter
ye. Come 'long, I say, an' don't stan' ther,
a-gawpin' like er runt pig in er peach or-
chard. I do 'spise er fool. Come on, dad
ding it, an' 'have yerself."
It is probable that no man was ever
more bewildered than D'Antinac was just
then ; in fact, he could not command him-
self sufficiently to do more than stand
there, after he had risen, and stupidly
stare at Hodson. The latter, however, did
not parley, but seizing one of the young
man's arms in a vise-like grip, he began
jerking him along the trail toward the
It was a subject fit for an artist's study,
the old giant striding down the path, with
the young man following at a trot. D'An-
tinac could not resist. He felt the insig-
nificance of his physique, and also of his
92 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
will, when compared with those of this old
man of the mountain.
" I bet yer mammy '11 know ye, soon es
she lays eyes onter ye, spite of yer new-fan-
gled clo's an' yer fancy mustachers. An' es
fur Mandy, don't s'pose she '11 'member ye,
case she wus too little w'en ye — w'en ye
war' — w'en they tuck ye off. She was no-
thin' but er baby then, ye know. Well, not
ezactly a baby, nuther, but er little gal like.
Le's see, she air sevingteen now ; well, she
wer 'bout five er six, er sich a matter, then.
Mebbe she mought know ye too."
D'Antinac, as he listened to this, began
to understand that in some way he had
been identified in the old man's mind as a
long-lost son, and it seemed to him that
his only safety lay in ready and pliant ac-
ceptance, if not in active furtherance, of
the illusion. He was roughly hustled into
the Hodson dwelling, a squat old house,
built of pine logs, with the cracks between
boarded over with clapboards.
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 93
" Sarah, der ye 'member this yer little
rooster ? " Hodson exclaimed, with a ring
of pride in his stubborn voice, as he twisted
D'Antinac around so as to bring him face
to face with a slim, sallow, wrinkled little
old woman, who stood by an enormous
fireplace, smoking an oily-looking clay
pipe. " Don't he jest hev a sort er nat'ral
look ter ye? Hev he be'n killed in the
wa', Sarah, eh ? "
The woman did not respond immedi-
ately. She took the pipe from her mouth
and gazed at D'Antinac. Her face slowly
assumed a yearning look, and at length,
with a sort of moaning cry of recognition,
she fell upon him and clasped him close,
kissing him and wetting him with her
tears. Her breath, heavy with the malodor
of nicotine, almost strangled him, but he
dared not resist.
During this ordeal he got broken
glimpses of a bright girlish face, a heavy
rimpled mass of lemon-colored hair, and a
94 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
very pretty form clothed in a loose home-
" Mandy, hit air Dave come back, yer
brother Dave ; do yer 'member 'im ? " he
heard the old man say. " Do yer 'member
the little rooster 'at they conscripted an'
tuck erway ter the wa' ? Well, thet air 's
him, thet air 's Dave ! Go kiss 'im,
The girl did not move, nor did she seem
at all inclined to share the excitement of
" Go kiss yer bud, Mandy, I say," Hod-
son commanded. " He wus n't killed in no
wa'. Kiss the little rooster, Mandy."
" Won't," stubbornly responded Mandy.
" Well, now, I '11 jest ber dinged, sis, ef
this yere hain't jest too bad," the old man
exclaimed in a whining, deprecatory tone
of voice, quite different from the gruff, bul-
lying sounds usually emitted by him. " I
would n't er thort 'at ye 'd 'fuse ter be glad
w'en yer little brother come."
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 95
" 'Tain't none o' my brother, neither,"
she said, blushing vermilion, as she half
shyly gazed at D'Antinac, with her finger
in her mouth.
Mrs. Hodson hung upon the young man
for a space that seemed to him next to in-
terminable, and when at last she unwound
her bony arms from his neck and pushed
him back, so as to get a good look at him,
he felt such relief as comes with the first
fresh breath after a season of suffocation.
" Ye air be'n gittin' rich, hain't ye, Dave ?
an' ye air fatter 'n ye wus, too," she re-
marked. Then she went back to the
hearth and relighted her pipe, meantime
eyeing him curiously.
D'Antinac never before had found him-
self so utterly at a loss for something to
do or say. The occasion was a singularly
dry, queer, and depressing one. He felt
the meanness of his attitude, and yet a side
glance at Hodson's stubbornly cruel face
and giant form was enough to enforce its
96 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
" Yer mammy's jest as purty es ever,
haint she, Dave ? " said the old man with
a wheedling note in his rasping voice ; " she
hain't changed none, hev she, Dave ? "
" I don't know — I guess — well, perhaps
she 's more flesh — that is, stouter than
when — than when " —
" Ye-e-s, that air hit, Dave," said Hod-
son, " she air fatter."
Nothing could have been more ridicu-
lous than this assertion. Mrs. Hodson,
like most old mountain women who live
on salt pork and smoke tobacco, was as
thin and dried up as a last year's beech-
leaf. D'Antinac sheepishly glanced at
Mandy. The girl put her hand over her
really sweet-looking mouth and uttered a
suppressed titter, at the same time deepen-
ing her blushes and shrugging her plump,
" Well, Dave, jest es I 'spected, Mandy
hev f urgot ye," said Hodson ; " but ye know
she wer' not no bigger 'n a nubbin o' dry
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 9/
weather co'n w'en ye wer' tuck away. But
hit 's all right, Dave ; yer mammy an' me
hev alius felt like ye 'd turn up some day,
an' lo an' behole, ye hev."
Once more D'Antinac bravely tried to
deny this alleged kinship to the Hodson
household, but the old man instantly flew
into a passion and threatened all sorts of
condign punishment, not the worst of
which was " swiping him all over a' acre
" But, my dear sir, I can't afford to have
you for a moment think " —
" Dry up, ye little sniv'lin' conscript, er
I '11 mop this yere floo' wi' ye in a minute !
Hain't ye got no sense 't all ? Hev I got
ter down ye ag'in ? "
D'Antinac could not help himself. He
made a full surrender, and accepted, for
the time, his role of returned son and bro-
ther, trusting that something would soon
turn up to free him from the embarrass-
ment. He was not long in discovering
98 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT -*
that Mrs. Hodson's faith in his identity
was much weaker than the old man's, and
as for Mandy, she very flatly refused to
accept him as a brother.
It was now sundown, and the evening
shadows were gathering in the valley. Far
and near, the brown thrushes, the cardinal
grosbeaks, and the catbirds were singing
in the hedges of sassafras that overgrew
the old worm fences of the Hodson farm.
The woods along the mountain-sides were
almost black with their heavy leafage, and
the stony peaks of the highest ridge in
the west, catching the reflection from the
sunset clouds, looked like heaps of gold.
A peculiar dryness seemed to pervade
earth, air, and sky, as if some underground
volcanic heat had banished every trace of
moisture from the soil, whilst the sun
had desiccated the atmosphere. Even the
clouds, scudding overhead, had the look of
being crisp and withered.
With all a Sand Mountain man's faith in
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 99
the universal efficacy of fried bacon, Hod-
son ordered supper to be prepared. Mandy
rolled up the sleeves of her homespun
dress, showing arms as white and plump
as those of a babe, and proceeded to cut
some long slices of streaked " side-meat," as
the mountaineers term smoked breakfast-
bacon, while her father started a fire on
the liberal hearth. The supper was rather
greasy, but not unpalatable, the fried corn-
bread and crisp meat being supplemented
by excellent coffee. During the meal
Hodson plied D'Antinac with questions as
to where he had spent all these years of
absence, questions very hard to answer sat-
Mrs. Hodson silently watched the young
man, with a doubting, wistful look in her
watery eyes, as if she could not make up
her mind to trust him wholly, and yet
was anxious to accept him as her long-lost
son. Mandy scarcely lifted her face after
she sat down at the table, but D'Antinac
100 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
fancied he could detect a dimpling ripple
of suppressed merriment about her rosy
cheeks and mouth.
When supper was over, and Mandy had
washed the dishes and put them away,
Hodson proposed music ; he was almost
" Ye ricollec' Jord, don't ye, Dave ? Our
ole nigger feller — course ye do, yer boun'
ter ricollec' 'im, could n't never furgit 'im ;
mean ole villyun, but er good hand ter hoe
cotting an' pull fodder. Well, he 's jest
got in from the upper co'n-fiel', an' is er
feedin' 'is mule. Soon es he comes ter 'is
cabing, I '11 call 'im in ter pick the banjer
fur ye, an' I don't whant ye ter say nothin'
'bout who ye air, an' see ef he 'members
Of course D'Antinac assented ; there
v/as nothing else for him to do. In fact,
he was beginning to feel a sharp interest
in the progress of this queer farce. He
tried to get a look into Mandy's roguish
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT lOI
eyes, that he might be sure of her sympa-
thy ; but she avoided him, her cheeks all the
time burning with blushes, and her yellow-
ish hair tossed loosely over her neck and
shoulders. Presently Hodson went out to
bring in Jord and the banjo. It was dur-
ing his absence, and while Mrs. Hodson
was stooping over the embers on the
hearth, trying to scoop up a coal to light
her pipe, that the bashful girl got up and
walked across the room. As she passed
D'Antinac, she whispered : —
" Ye must 'member Jord soon es ye see
'im — don't ye fail. Save er rumpus."
" All right," whispered D'Antinac.
Hodson reentered in due time, followed
by a slender, bony negro man, whose iron-
gray wool and wrinkled face indexed his
age at near seventy years.
'* Jording, der ye know this yere gentle-
man ? " said Hodson, pointing at D'Anti-
nac and grinning triumphantly.
" Naw, sah, don't fink er do," answered
102 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
the negro, twirling his banjo in a self-con-
scious way, and bowing obsequiously.
Mrs. Hodson and Mandy interchanged
half-frightened grimaces, followed by fur-
tive glances toward the man of the house.
" Jording," said Hodson, " ef ye don't
tell me who this yere feller air in less 'n a
minute, I '11 jest nat'rally take the ramrod
out'n Hornet," pointing to a long rifle that
hung over the door, " an' I '11 jest wax hit
to ye, tell ye '11 be glad ter 'member mos'
anybody. Now talk it out quick ! "
Mandy gave D'Antinac a sign with her
eyes. Mrs. Hodson clasped her thin,
" Why, Jord, old fellow, don't you re-
member Dave ! " exclaimed D'Antinac,
taking a step forward, and simulating great
joy and surprise.
" W-w-w'at Dave is yer tarkin' 'bout?"
stammered the poor old negro.
Hodson's face instantly swelled with
rage, and he certainly would have done
\V-W— WAT DAVE IS YER TARKIN' -BOUT?'
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT IO3
something desperate had not D'Antinac
just then closed up the space between him-
self and Jord. Mandy, too, joined the
group and whispered : —
" Don't be er fool, Jord, say hit 's Dave
come back f'om the wa'."
Jord's wits and conscience were a little
refractory, but Mandy 's voice found an
able auxiliary in the fact that Hodson had
by this time got possession of the rifle-
ramrod, and was flourishing it furiously.
" W'y, Mars Dave ! dis you ? 'Clar' ter
goodness de ole niggah's eyes gittin' pow'-
ful pore ! Did n' know yer no mo'n nuffin'
at fus' ; but yer look jes' es nat'ral es der
ole mule ter me now. Wha' ye been all
dis time. Mars Dave ? 'Clar' ter goodness
ye 'sprise de ole niggah's senses mos' out'n
'im, yer does fo' sho' ! "
While Jord was thus delivering himself,
he kept one eye queerly leering at D'An-
tinac, and the other glaring wildly at the
104 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
" Ther', what 'd I tell ye ? " exclaimed
Hodson vociferously ; " what 'd I tell ye !
Jord 'members 'im ! Hit air Dave, she 's ye
bo'n, Sarah ! Hit air our boy, fur a fac',
the blamed little rooster ! He wus n't killed
in no wa', Sarah ! I alius tole ye 'at he 'd
come back, an' sho' 'nuff, yer he air ! Hal-
looyer ! " As he spoke he capered awk-
wardly over the floor to the imminent
danger of every one's toes. When his
ecstasy had somewhat abated, he turned to
Jord, his face beaming with delight.
" Now, Jording," he said, " give us my
favoryte song; an', Jording, put on the
power, put on the power ! This yere 's a
'cashun of onlimited rejoicin' ! Hain't it,
Sarah ? "
" Hit air," responded Mrs. Hodson, puff-
ing lazily at her old pipe.
Hodson took a chair, placed it close
beside his wife, sat down with his hand
caressing her shoulder, and whispered : —
" Hain't this yere jest glor'ous .? "
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 105
" Hit air," she answered lifelessly.
Mandy's face was as pink as the petals
of a wild rose, and her heart was fluttering
D'Antinac, keenly alive to the dramatic
situation, and somewhat troubled as to how
it was to end, glanced around the room,
and, despite his mental perturbation, be-
came aware of the rude but powerful set-
ting of the scene. The pine-smoked walls
and ceiling, the scant, primitive furniture,
the scrupulously clean puncheon floor, the
long flint-locked rifle, the huge "stick and
dirt " fireplace, the broad, roughly laid
hearth, and the smoke-grimed wooden
crane, all taken together, made an entourage
in perfect accord with the figures, the cos-
tumes, and the predicament.
Jord tuned his banjo with some show of
faltering, and presently he began to play
and sing. The following, which were the
closing stanzas, will serve to give an idea
of the performance : —
I06 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
" Ab'um Linkum say he gwine ter
Free ole niggah in de wah,
But Mars Hodson say he mine ter
See how Ab'um do dat dar !
Hoop-te-loody, how ye gwine ter
When Mars Hodson not er mine ter ?
" Den ole Ab'um say ; 'You free um ! '
But Mars Hodson cut an' shoot,
An' say to Ab'um dat he see 'um
At de debbil 'fore he do 't !
Hoop-te-loody, how ye gwine ter
When Mars Hodson not er mine ter ? "
" That air a fac'," exclaimed Hodson
almost gleefully, " that air a fac'. Here 's
what never guv in yit, Dave ! They tried
fur ter mek me fight fur the Confed'ret
States an' they never done hit, an' 'en they
tried ter conscrip' me, like they did you,
Dave, but I cut 'em an' shot 'em an' hid
out aroun' in these yere woods tell they
guv my place the name o' Hide-out, an'
they did n't conscrip' me, nuther ; an' 'en
the tother gov'ment proclamated an' sot
ever'body's niggers free, but yer daddy hel'
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT 10/
on ter his one lone nigger jes' ter show
'em 'at he could, fur ther 's not a gov'ment
onto the top side o' yearth 'at kin coerce
er subjugate yer daddy, Dave."
Jord hung his head in the utmost
humility while his master was speaking.
A keen pang of sympathy shot through
D'Antinac's bosom. The thought that
this kindly-faced old negro was still a
slave, the one lone man of his race, whose
shackles remained unbroken, was touching
beyond compare. And yet it seemed in
consonance with the nature of things that
such a person as Hodson should be able,
situated as he was, to resist, for any length
of time, the tide of the new regime. This
easy turn from the absurd to the pathetic
gave a new force to the situation, harden-
ing and narrowing its setting, whilst it
added infinite depth to its meaning. Here-
indeed, was the very heart of Sand Moun-
tain, and well might it be called Hodson's
Hide-out, where slavery's last victim had
I08 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
been hidden safe from the broad eyes of
D'Antinac could not sleep when at last
he had been left by Hodson in a little
dingy room, whither his gun and pack had
also been transported. The bed was soft
and clean, and the moonlight pouring
through a low, square, paneless window
invited to sleep; he lay there pondering
and restless. Hodson's last words, before
bidding him good-night, kept ringing in
his ears : —
" Thet ole Jording air a livin' ezample
o' my 'termination an' ondurence, Dave,
an' hit shows what stuff yer daddy 's made
out'n. The whole etarnal worl' kin never
free that air nigger. He er mine ter keep,
es the ole hymn say, ' whatever may
D'Antinac was small of stature and not
at all a hero mentally; but he had come
of a liberty loving ancestry, and was, de-
spite his foreign looking name, an Ameri-
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT IO9
can to his heart's core. No doubt the
wild roving life he had for years been lead-
ing, as an emissary of an ornithological
society, had served to emphasize and ac-
centuate his love of freedom in every sense.
He had turned and tossed on his bed
for several hours, when a peculiar voice,
between a chant and a prayer in its into-
nations, came in through the little window,
along with the white stream of moonlight.
He got up and softly went to the aperture.
The voice came from a little detached
cabin in the back yard. It was Jord pray-
" Lor', hab de ole man sarb ye well an'
true } Mus' I die er slabe an' come 'ome
ter glory wid de chain on ? What I done,
Lor', 'at ye 'zart me when I 'se ole ? Is I
nebber gwine ter be free ? Come down.
Lor', an', 'stain de ole man in he 'fliction
an' trouble, an', O Lor', gib 'im ole eyes
one leetle glimp' ob freedom afore he die.
no HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
Such were the closing words of the
plaintive and touching prayer. No won-
der that suddenly D'Antinac's whole life
focused itself in the desire to liberate that
old slave. He forgot every element of his
predicament, save his nearness to the last
remnant of human bondage. He drew on
his clothes, seized his pack and gun, and
slyly crept out through the little window.
The cool, sweet mountain air braced him
like wine. This ought to be the breath of
freedom. These rugged peaks surround-
ing the little " pocket " or valley ought not
to fence in a slave or harbor a master.
Riley Hodson slept soundly all night,
and did not get up before breakfast was
" Let the little rooster sleep ; hit air
Sunday, anyhow; let 'im git up when he
whants ter," said the old man, when D'An-
tinac failed to appear.
Mandy had fried some ham and eggs
for breakfast, and she came to the table
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT III
clad in a very becoming calico gown. Mrs.
Hodson appeared listless, and her eyes had
no cheerful light in them. The old man
ate ravenously the choicest eggs and the
best slices of ham, with the air of one de-
termined upon vicariously breaking the
fast of the entire household. But Mandy
had saved back in the frying-pan some
extra bits for the young stranger.
An hour passed.
" Guess the blamed little rooster air
a-goin' ter snooze all day. Mebbe I 'd bet-
ter wake 'im," Hodson at last said, and
went to the little bedroom. He tapped on
the door, but got no response. Then he
pounded heavily and called out : —
" Hullo, Dave ! "
Silence followed. He turned and glared
at Mrs. Hodson, then at Mandy.
" The blamed little rooster ! " he mut-
tered, flinging open the door. For many
seconds he stood peering into the room.
Presently he clutched the doorpost to
112 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
steady himself, then he reeled round, and
his face grew white.
" Dave er gone ! " he gasped ; " Dave er
gone ! Lor-r-d, Sarah, he air gone ag'in ! "
Almost involuntarily Mandy went to
the bedroom door and confirmed her fa-
ther's assertion. Mrs. Hodson was quiet.
Indeed, there seemed to have fallen a per-
fect hush over the valley and the moun-
Riley Hodson soon rallied. He sprang
to his feet like a tiger.
" Mandy," he stormed, " go tell Jording
ter bridle an' saddle the mule, quick ! "
Mandy went at his command, as if blown
by his breath. In a few minutes she re-
turned, white as a ghost, and gasped : —
" Jord er gone ! "
"What! How! Gone! Jording!"
" He air gone," Mandy repeated, holding
out a two-dollar " greenback " bill in one
hand and a piece of writing-paper in the
HODSON'S HIDE-OUT II3
" I got these yere off 'n Jord's table."
With great difficulty and in a breathless
way, she read aloud what was hastily
scrawled on the paper : —
Mr. Hodson :
Dear Sir, — You are greatly mistaken;
I am not your son- I never saw you or
any member of your family in my life be-
fore yesterday. Your wife and daughter
are both well aware of your curious illu-
sion. Jordan, whom I take with me to
freedom, knows that I am not your lost
son. In fact, I am.
Very respectfully yours,
P. S. A letter will reach me if di-
rected in care of the Smithsonian Institu-
tion at Washington, D. C. I inclose two
dollars to pay for the trouble I have
Hodson caught his mule, bridled it and
114 HODSON'S HIDE-OUT
saddled it, and rode away up the zigzag
mountain trail in pursuit of the fugitives ;
but he did not catch them. At nightfall
he returned in a sombre mood, with a look
of dry despair in his eyes. For a long
while he did not speak; but at length,
when his wife came and sat down close
beside him, he muttered : —
" Wer' hit Dave, Sarah ? "
" Hit wer' not," she answered ; " Dave
never had no mole onter 'is chin."
RUDGIS AND GRIM
" When Freedom from her mountain height."
The Rudgis farm was the only one in
Lone Ridge Pocket, a secluded nook of
the North Georgia mountain-region, and its
owner, Eli Rudgis, was, in the ante-bellum
time, a man among the simple and honest
people who dwelt beside the little crooked
highway leading down the valley of the
Pine-log Creek. He owned but one ne-
gro, as was often the case with them, and
he had neither wife nor children. His
slave was his sole companion of the hu-
man kind, sharing with certain dogs, pigs,
horses, and oxen a rude, democratic dis-
tribution of favors and frowns. As a man
this negro was an interesting specimen of
the genuine African : short, strongly built,
but ill-shapen, with a large head firmly
Il6 RUDGIS AND GRIM
braced by a thick, muscular neck on broad,
stooping shoulders; a skin as black as
night ; small deep-set eyes ; a protruding,
resolute jaw ; and a nose as flat as the head
of an adder. As a slave he was, perhaps,
valuable enough in his way; but both as
man and thrall he did no discredit to his
name, which was Grim. He, too, was a
familiar figure along the Pine-log road, as
he drove an old creaking ox-cart to and
from the village.
When the war broke out, master and
slave had reached the beginning of the
downward slope of life, and, having spent
many years together in their lonely retreat
at the Pocket, had grown to love each
other after the surly, taciturn fashion of
men who have few thoughts and a meagre
gift of expression.
Eli Rudgis was tall, slim, cadaverous,
slow of movement, and sallow ; but he had
a will of his own, and plenty of muscle to
enforce it withal.
RUDGIS AND GRIM 11/
" Grim," said he one day, " them derned
Northerners air a-goin' ter set ye free."
The negro looked up from the hickory-
bark basket he was mending, and scowled
savagely at his master.
" Wat yo' say, Mars' Rudgis ? " he pre-
" Them Yankees air a-goin' ter gi' ye^
yer freedom poorty soon."
Grim's face took on an expression of
dogged determination, his shoulders rose
almost to the level of his protruding ears,
and his small, wolfish eyes gleamed fiercely.
" Who say dey gwine ter do dat ? " he
demanded with slow, emphatic enunciation.
" I say hit, an' w'en I says hit," began
the master ; but Grim broke in with : —
" Dey cayn't do nuffin' wid me. I done
made up my mine ; dis chil' cayn't be
fo'ced. Yo' yah dat. Mars' Rudgis ? "
Rudgis grinned dryly, and walked away,
smoking his cob-pipe with the air of a phi-
losopher who bides his time.
Il8 RUDGIS AND GRIM
The Rudgis cabin was a low, nonde-
script log structure of three or four rooms
and a wide entry or hall, set in the midst of
a thick, luxuriant orchard of peach, plum,
and apple trees crowning a small conical
foothill, which, seen from a little distance,
appeared to rest against the rocky breast
of the mountain that stood over against
the mouth of the Pocket. From the rick-
ety veranda, where Rudgis now sought a
seat, there was a fine view of the little
farm, whose angular but rolling patches of
tillable land straggled away to the foothills
on the other side of the Pocket, beyond
which the wall of cliffs rose, gray and
brown, to a great height.
Recently Eli Rudgis had been thinking
a good deal about Grim ; for, as the war
continued, it grew in his mind that the
South was going to lose the fight. He
had only recently heard of President Lin-
coln's emancipation proclamation, and with
that far-seeing prudence characteristic of
RUDGIS AND GRIM II9
a certain order of provincial intellect he
was considering how best to forestall the
effect of freedom if it should come, as he
feared it would. Grim was his property,
valued at about eight hundred dollars in
" good money," or in Confederate scrip at
perhaps two or three thousand dollars,
more or less. He shrank from selling the
negro, for in his dry, peculiar way he was
fond of him ; but, on the other hand, he
could not consent to lose so much money
on the outcome of an issue not of his own
making. It can readily be imagined how,
with ample leisure for reflection, and with
no other problem to share his attention,
Rudgis gradually buried himself, so to
speak, in this desire to circumvent and
nullify emancipation (in so far as it would
affect his ownership of Grim) when it
Grim was far more knowing, far better
informed, and much more of a philosopher,
than his master gave him credit for being.
120 RUDGIS AND GRIM
By some means, as occult as reliable, he
had kept perfectly abreast of the progress
of the great weltering, thundering, death-
dealing tempest of the war, and in his heart
he felt the coming of deliverance, the jubi-
lee of eternal freedom for his race. Inca-
pable, perhaps, of seeing clearly the true
aspect of what was probably in store for
him, he yet experienced a change of pros-
pect that affected every fibre of his imagi-
nation, and opened wide every pore of his
sensibility. Naturally wary, suspicious, and
quick to observe signs, he had been aware
that his master was revolving some scheme,
which in all probability would affect a
change in their domestic relations, to the
extent, possibly, of severing the tie which
for so long had bound together the lord
and the thrall of Lone Ridge Pocket.
" He studyin' 'bout er-sellin' me," he
soliloquized, as he lingered over his task
of basket-mending after Rudgis had gone,
" an' he fink he er-gwine ter fool dis ol'
RUDGIS AND GRIM 121
coon. Well, 'fore de Lor', mebbe he
" What ye mutterin' thar. Grim .?" called
the master from his seat on the veranda.
" What ye growlin' 'bout, lak er pup over
er ham-bone ? "
" Nuffin', sah ; I jes' tryin' fo' ter ketch
dat chune w'at I be'n er-l'arnin'."
Then to clench the false statement,
Grim began humming: —
" De coon he hab er eejit wife,
Hoe yo' co'n, honey,
De coon he hab er eejit wife,
An' she nebber comb her hah in 'er life,
Keep er-hoein' yo' co'n, honey.
" An' de coon say : ' I knows w'at I '11 do,'
Hoe yo' co'n, honey,
An' his wife she squall out, ' I does too ! '
An' she snatch 'im poorty nigh in two.
Keep er-hoein' yo' co'n, honey.
" So dat coon he alius ricollec',
Hoe yo' co'n, honey,
Ef he talk too loud he mus' expec'
She scratch he eyes an' wring he neck,
Keep er-hoein' yo' co'n, honey ! "
122 RUDGIS AND GRIM
Rudgis listened stoically enough, so far
as facial expression went ; but when the
low, softly melodious song was done, he
shook his head, and smiled aridly.
" Got more sense 'an er Philadelphy
laryer," he muttered under his breath, "an'
he 's got some undertakin' inter that nog-
gin er his'n. S'pect I hev ter do some-
thin' er nother wi' him, er he 's er-goin' ter
git the best o' me."
He drew away at his wheezing pipe,
leaning his chin, thinly fringed with griz-
zled beard, in his left hand, and propping
that arm with his knee. His typical moun-
tain face wore a puzzled, half-worried, half-
"Dern'is black pictur'," he continued
inaudibly, though his lips moved ; " he air
a-considerin' freedom right now."
" Whi' man tuk me fer er fool,
Hoe yo' co'n, honey,
Wo'k me like er yaller mule,
An' never gi' me time ter cool,
Keep er-hoein' yo' co'n, honey,"
RUDGIS AND GRIM 123
hummed Grim in that tender falsetto of
his. There was a haze in the air, a May-
time shimmer over the Pocket and up the
terraced slopes of the mountains. Sud-
denly a heavy booming, like distant thun-
der, tumbled as if in long, throbbing waves
across the peaks, and fell into the little
"Wat dat. Mars' Rudgis ? 'Fore de
Lor', w'at dat ? " cried the negro, leaping
to his feet, and staring stupidly, his great
mouth open, his long arms akimbo.
Eli Rudgis took his pipe-stem from his
mouth, and sat in a barkening attitude.
" Hit 's thet air war er-comin'," he pre-
sently said, and resumed his smoking and
" De good Lor', Mars' Rudgis, w'at we
gwine ter do? " stammered Grim, his heavy
countenance growing strangely ashen over
its corrugated blackness.
" Shet erp, an' mend that ther' basket,"
growled the master. " Goin' ter mek ye
124 RUDGIS AND GRIM
wo'k like the devil er-beatin' tan-bark while
I kin: fer thet's yer frien's er-comin', ter
free ye, Grim, shore 's shootin'."
The African bowed his head over his
light task, and remained thoughtfully si-
lent, while the dull pounding in the far
distance increased to an incessant roar,
vague, wavering, suggestive, awful.
Rudgis thought little of the wider sig-
nificance accompanying that slowly rolling
tempest of destruction ; his mental vision
was narrowed to the compass of the one
subject which lately had demanded all his
powers of consideration. Was it possible
for him to hold Grim as his slave despite
the Proclamation of Emancipation, and
notwithstanding the triumph of the Federal
" Ef I try ter take 'im down the country
ter sell 'im, they '11 conscrip' me inter the
war," he argued to himself, " an' ef I stays
yer them 'fernal Yankees '11 set 'im free.
Seem lak it air pow'ful close rubbin' an',
RUDGIS AND GRIM 12$
dern ef I know what ter do ! I air kind
o' twixt the skillet an' the coals."
Day after day he sat smoking and cogi-
tating, while Grim pottered at this or that
bit of labor. He had an unconquerable
aversion to going into the army, a thing
he had avoided, partly by reason of his
age and partly by one personal shift or an-
other, after the exigencies of the Confeder-
acy had led to the conscription of " able-
bodied men " regardless of age. He felt
that things were growing to desperate
straits in the low country, and he feared to
show himself outside his mountain fastness
lest a conscript officer might nab him and
send him to the front. Not that he was a
coward ; but in the high, dry atmosphere
of the hill country there lingered a sweet
and inextinguishable sense of loyalty to
the old flag, which touched the minds of
many mountaineers with a vague intima-
tion of the enormity of rebellion against the
government of Washington and Jackson.
126 RUDGIS AND GRIM
And yet they were Southerners, good
fighters, Yankee-haters, and clung to the
right of property in their negroes with a
tenacity as tough as the sinews of their
hardy limbs. They were, indeed, far more
stubborn in this last regard than any of
the great slave-owners of the low country,
owing, no doubt, to their narrow, provin-
cial notions of personal independence,
which felt no need for aid, or for the in-
terference of the law in their private con-
Grim was not a typical slave, but he
was a legitimate instance of the slavery
known in the secluded region of the South-
ern mountain country. He was as free, in
all but name, as were most illiterate labor-
ers of that day, barring that his skin and
the Southern traditions set him on a plane
far below and quite detached from that of
the lowest white men. He had no bonds
that galled him personally; plenty to eat,
just enough work to keep him robust, a
RUDGIS AND GRIM 12/
good bed, sufficient clothing, and unlimited
tobacco — what more could he want ?
His master, however, observed that he
was doing a great deal of thinking ; that
lately he was busying his mind with some
absorbing problem, and from certain signs
and indications the fact appeared plain
that Grim was making ready to meet the
day of freedom. Rudgis saw this with a
dull, deep-seated sentimental pang mixed
with anger and resentment. Years of
companionship in that lonely place had
engendered a fondness for his slave of
which he was not fully aware, and out of
which was now issuing a sort of bewilder-
ment of mind and soul. Would Grim in-
deed forsake him, desert him to go away
to try the doubtful chances of a new order
of things ? This question was supple-
mented by another on a different stratum
of human selfishness. Rudgis like all
mountain-men, had a narrow eye to profit
and loss. The money represented by
128 RUDGIS AND GRIM
Grim as his slave possessed a powerful in-
fluence; it was the larger part of his
Grim, on his part, watched his master
as the tide of war flowed on through
the mountain-gaps far to the west of the
Pocket ; his calculations were simpler and
more directly personal than those of his
master. Of course things could not re-
main in this situation very long. Grim
was the first to speak straight to the sub-
" Mars' Rudgis," said he one day, " yo'
be'n 'siderin' erbout sellin' me."
This direct accusation took the master
" Wha-wha-what 's that air ye air er-say-
in', ye ol' whelp ? " he spluttered, almost
dropping his pipe.
" Yo' be'n er-finkin' 'at I 's gittin' close
onter de freedom line, an' ye s'pose yo' 'd
better git w'at ye kin fo' me, yah-yah-yah-
ee-oorp ! " and the black rascal broke forth
RUDGIS AND GRIM 129
with a mighty guffaw, bending himself al-
most double, and slapping his hands vigor-
ously. " But yo' 's feared dey git ye an'
mek yo' tote er gun, an' 'at yo' 'd git de
stufifin' shot outen yo' ef yo' try take me
down de country, yah-yah-yah-ee-ee-oorp ! "
"Shet erp ! What ye mean ? Stop thet
air sq'allin', er I'll" —
*' Yah-yah-yah-ee-eep ! I done cotch outer
yo' ca'c'lation, Mars' Rudgis, 'fo' de Lor' I
has, oh ! Yah-yah-yah-yah-ha-eep ! An' yo'
fink I 's er eejit all dis time, yah-yah-yah !
Oh, gi' 'long, Mars' Rudgis, yo' cayn't
fool dis chicken, yah-ha-yah-ha-ha-ha-ee-
eer-pooh ! "
Rudgis tried several times to stop this
flow of accusative mirth, but at last, quite
confused, he stood tall and gaunt, with a
sheepish grin on his dry, wrinkled face,
gazing at the writhing negro as he almost
screamed out his sententious but fluent
" I done be'n er-watchin' yo' like er
I30 RUDGIS AND GRIM
sparrer-hawk watchin' er peewee, Mars'
Rudgis, an' I say ter myself : ' Jes' see .'im
er-figerin' how much I 's wo'f, an' how
much he gwine ter lose w'en I goes free.
An' I done be'n jes' er-bustin' over it all
dis time, yah-yah-yah-ee-ee ! ' "
" Grim," said Rudgis, presently, with
slow, emphatic expression, " I air er-goin'
'mejitly ter give ye one whirpin' 'at ye '11
ricomember es long es they 's breath in
yer scurvy ol' body ! "
They were standing on the veranda at
the time. Rudgis turned into the entry,
and immediately came out with a ramrod
in his hand.
" Now fer yer sass ye air er-goin' ter
ketch hit," he said, in that cold, rasping
tone which means so much. " Stan' erp
yer an' take yer med'cine."
Grim went down on his knees and be-
gan to beg; his mirth had vanished; he
was trembling violently. Rudgis had never
RUDGIS AND GRIM 131
•' Fo' de Lor' sake, Mars' Eli, don' w'irp
de po' ol' chir ! I war jes funnin', Mars'
Rudgis ; I jes' want ter see w'at yo' gwine
say. I" —
At that moment there was a great clat-
ter of iron-shod hoofs at the little yard
gate ; the next, three or four horses
bounded over the low fence and dashed up
to the veranda.
" Please, Mars' Rudgis, don' w'irp me ! I
did n' mean no harm. Mars' Rudgis,' deed
I did n' ! Oh, fo' de Lor' sake ! "
" Ha ! there ! stop that ! " commanded a
loud, positive voice. " What the devil do
you mean ! "
Rudgis had already looked that way.
He saw some mounted soldiers, wearing
blue uniforms and bearing bright guns,
glaring at him.
" Oh, Mars' Rudgis, I never gwine do so
no mo', don' w'irp me ! don' w'irp me ! "
continued Grim, paying no heed to the
132 RUDGIS AND GRIM
" Le' me off dis yer time, fo' de goo'
Lor' sake ! " And he held up his hands
in dramatic beseechment.
" If you strike that negro one blow, I '11
shoot a hole through you quicker than
lightning ! " roared one of the men, who
appeared to be an officer, at the same time
leveling his pistol.
Rudgis dropped the ramrod as if he had
been suddenly paralyzed. Grim sprang to
his feet with the agility of a black cat.
" What does this mean .? " demanded the
officer, showing a gleam of anger in his
eyes, his voice indicating no parleying
Rudgis stood there, pale, stolid, silent,
his mouth open, his arms akimbo.
'• Lor', sah, we jes' er-foolin'," said Grim,
seeing that his master could find not a
word to say. " We 's er-playin' hoky-poky."
The officer leaned over his saddle-bow,
and looked from one to the other of the
RUDGIS AND GRIM 133
" Yes, sah it war bony-hokus 'at we 's
er-playin', 'zac'ly dat, sah," continued Grim.
" Playing what ? " grimly inquired the
" Rokus-pokus, sah."
" You lying old scamp," cried the officer,
glaring at him, " you 're trying to deceive
" Ax Mars' Rudgis, now ; ax him, sah."
" Humph ! " and the Federal officer
turned to the master. " What do you say,
sir ? "
" Tell 'im, Mars' Rudgis ; 'bout w'at we 's
er-playin'," pleaded Grim.
Rudgis moved his lips as if to speak, but
they were dry and made no sound. He
licked them with his furred, feverish tongue.
Never before had he been so thoroughly
" Are you dumb ? " stormed the officer,
again handling his weapon. " Can't you
speak ? "
" Hit were hoky-poky," gasped Rudgis.
134 RUDGIS AND GRIM
" Dah, now ! Dah, now ! Mebbe yo 's
sat'sfied, sah. W'a' 'd I tol' yo' ? " cried
Grim, wagging his head and gesticulating.
" We's jes'er-playin' dat leetle game."
The officer wanted some information
about a road over the mountain, so he
made Grim saddle a mule and go with him
to show the way. As he rode off he called
back to Rudgis : —
" This man 's as free as you are, and he
need n't come back if he don't want to."
When they were quite gone, and the last
sound of their horses' feet had died away
down in the straggling fringe of trees at
the foot of the hill, Rudgis picked up his
ramrod and looked at it quizzically, as if
he expected it to speak. Slowly his face
relaxed, and a queer smile drew it into
"Hit were hoky-poky, by gum!" he
muttered. " The dern ol' scamp ! "
Presently he filled his pipe, and lighted
it, grinning all the while, and saying : —
HE FILLED HIS PIPE, AND LIGHTED IT
RUDGIS AND GRIM 135
" The triflin' ol' rooster, he hed half er
dozen dif ent names fer it ; but hit were
hoky-poky jes' the same. The dern old
coon ! "
The day passed, likewise the night;
but Grim did not return. A week, a
month, six months ; no Grim, no mule.
Sherman had swept through Georgia, and
on up through the Carolinas ; Johnston
and Lee had surrendered. Peace had
fallen like a vast silence after the awful din
of war. The worn and weary soldiers of
the South were straggling back to their
long-neglected homes to resume as best
they could the broken threads of their
Rudgis missed Grim more as a compan-
ion than as a slave. He mourned for him,
in a way, recalling his peculiarities, and
musing over that one superb stroke of wit
by which, perhaps, his life had been saved.
Never did he fail, at the end of such rev-
erie, to repeat, more sadly and tenderly
136 RUDGIS AND GRIM
each time, " Hit war hoky - poky, blame
his ol' hide ! " The humor of this verbal
reference was invariably indicated by a
peculiar rising inflection in pronouncing
" were," by which he meant to accentuate
lovingly Grim's prompt prevarication.
Spring had come again to the moun-
tains, bringing its gush of greenery, its
mellow sunshine, and its riotous birds.
Into the Pocket blew a breeze, soft, fra-
grant, dream - burdened, eddying like a
river of sweets around the lonely, embow-
Early one morning Rudgis was smok-
ing in his accustomed seat on the veranda.
In his shirt-sleeves, bareheaded and bare-
footed, his cotton shirt open wide at throat
and bosom, he looked like a bronze statue
of Emancipation, so collapsed, wrinkled,
and sear was he. His Roman nose was
the only vigorous feature of his unkempt
and retrospective face.
The sound of a mule's feet trotting up
RUDGIS AND GRIM 137
the little stony road did not attract his
curiosity, albeit few riders passed that
way; but when Grim came suddenly in
sight, it was an apparition that relaxed
every fibre of Rudgis's frame. He dropped
lower in the old armchair, his arms fell
limp, and his mouth opened wide, letting
fall the cob-pipe. He stared helplessly.
" Yah I is, Mars' Rudgis ; got back at
las'. How ye do. Mars' Rudgis ? "
There was a ring of genuine delight in
the negro's voice, — the timbre of loyal
sentiment too sweet for expression in writ-
ten language. He slid from the mule's
back, — not the same mule that he had
ridden away, but an older and poorer one,
— and scrambled through the lopsided
" Well, by dad ! " was all Rudgis could
say ; " well, by dad ! " His lower jaw wab-
bled and sagged.
" Tol' yo' dey could n't sot dis niggah
free, did n' 1 1 " cried Grim, as he made
138 RUDGIS AND GRIM
a dive for both his old master's hands.
" I 's come back ter 'long ter yo' same lak
I alius did. Yah, sah ; yah, sah."
Rudgis arose slowly from his seat and
straightened up his long, lean form so
that he towered above the short, sturdy
negro. He looked down at him in silence
for some moments, his face twitching
strangely. Slowly the old-time expression
began to appear around his mouth and
eyes. With a quick step he went into the
house, and returned almost instantly, bear-
ing a ramrod in his hand.
" Well, Grim," he said, with peculiar
emphasis, " ef ye air still my prop'ty, an'
ye don't objec', s'posin' we jes' finish up
that air leetle game er hoky-poky what we
was er playin' w'en them Yankees kem
an' bothered us."
A RACE ROMANCE
For many years Wiley Brimson had
been the owner of Sassafras Pocket, a
small but fertile nook between two great
projections of what is known as the Pine-
log Mountain in Cherokee, Georgia. He
owned one slave, a coal-black negro, whom
for the greater part of his lifetime he had
threatened with condign freedom.
" Ef they air anythin' 'at air pine-blank
wrong," he was fond of saying, " hit air
human slavery. Ther' 's thet nigger o'
mine, thet nigger Rory ; he 's jes' as good
as I air. He hev jes' as much right ter
boss me as I hev ter boss him. He orter
be free; but then I cayn't stan' the ex-
pense o' settin' 'im free, fer he 's wo'th
nigh onto thirteen hundred dollars. Hit
air too much money ter lose."
140 A RACE ROMANCE
A great deal of talk in this strain made
Brimson unpopular long before the war
broke out. The fact is, he was not of a
disposition to be a common favorite at
best, especially among the mountaineers,
who are the most conservative and least
argumentative folk in the world, while at
the same time they are the most tenacious
of their opinions, right or wrong.
Rory, the negro, was younger than his
master, and had been bought by him at
•sheriff's sale as the legal victim sacrificed
to pay the debt of a drunkard.
" Ye may thank yer lucky stars, Rory,
thet I hed thet money on han' an' bought
ye," Brimson often said to his slave; " fer
ef I hed n't 'a' done it ye 'd 'a' went down
ter New Orleans jest er-callyhootin'."
This was true, for a buyer who traded
in the Louisiana market was present at
the sale and bid close to the margin on
Rory, who at the time was a strong, fine
boy of fifteen.
A RACE ROMANCE 141
Brimson was a bachelor, and very natu-
rally found Rory a most acceptable and
interesting companion as well as a decid-
edly clever and faithful servant. The lad's
droll humor and abundant animal spirits
filled Sassafras Pocket with new life.
" The dern leetle rooster," said Brimson
to a select company over at Peevy's still-
house, — " the dern leetle rooster, he air
twice as smart as two white boys. He kin
sing like er tomtit, he kin climb like er
squirrel ; he kin run like er rabbit, an' he
kin pick the banjer ekal ter er showman."
As time went by and Rory grew to stal-
wart manhood, his master's admiration of
him confirmed itself in many ways not in
the least relished by the residents of the
" W'y, fellers," exclaimed Dick Redden
to a group of friends, " thet ther' low-down,
no-'count Brimson, he lets thet ther' nigger
eat at the table with 'im, an' Gabe Holly
say he see 'im bite er chaw off' n the nig-
142 A RACE ROMANCE
" Well," remarked Dave Aikens, '* I
hearn 'im 'low thet he 'd Tarn Rory ter
read, ef he knowed how his own self."
" Gent'men," remarked Squire Lem
Rookey, with a judicial reserve in his man-
ner, "hit hev some 'pearances 'at Wiley
Brimson air er dern aberlitionist."
Usually Squire Rookey 's word was the
final one, and from that day forth Brim-
son's name had attached to it the most
opprobrious qualification to be found in
the Southern vocabulary. The man was
ostracized in the fullest sense of the word.
Such friends as he had now dropped him.
The meetings over at the still-house voted
him out, and the children avoided passing
him in the public road. He felt all this to
a degree which gradually intensified his
peculiarities of disposition and shut him
like a hermit within the limits of Sassafras
" Me an' my nigger kin live all ter our-
selves," he growled, " an' ef folks don't jes'
A RACE ROMANCE I43
like our way er doin', w'y, jes' let 'em keep
off' n these yer premerses."
Deprived of the social privileges and
comforts hitherto grudgingly afforded him
by courtesy of his wide acquaintance in
Pine-log settlement, he began to thirst for
education. It is not certainly known how
he did get it, but in time he learned to
read and write, after a fashion; and the
next thing was to teach Rory, who, much
to Brimson's chagrin, was anything but an
" He air er leetle slow an' sort o' clumsy
erbout gittin' at the main p'ints o' the
spellin'-book," was Brimson's self-consola-
tion ; " but then w'enever he do once git
started he air er-gwine ter jest knock the
socks off'n me er-l'arnin', see 'f he don't."
They usually devoted the warm part of
the afternoon to the daily lessons, sitting
side by side on a rude wooden bench in the
shade of the vine that almost overloaded
the low, wide, rickety porch on the south
144 A RACE ROMANCE
side of Brimson's cabin. Through a rift
they might have a fine view of the little
valley, or pocket, beyond which the foot-
hills swelled up, overtopped by the blue
peaks of the Pine-log range. On one hand
they had a garden and truck patch, on the
other a small area, called the plantation,
which was given over to corn and wheat
and cotton. In front, between the house
and the little gate by the roadside, was the
well with its mossy curb and long, stone-
weighted sweep. Brimson was a small
man, and as he sat by the almost giant
negro, spelling-book in hand, he looked
the very embodiment of persistent insigni-
ficance. A painter might have sketched
the twain as a study for an allegorical pic-
ture of the absorption of one race by an-
other. The massive head and shoulders
of the negro leaned over the attenuated
white man, as if about to fall upon him
and crush him, or as if on the point of
breathing him in through the gaping.
A RACE ROMANCE I45
voluptuous, and infinitely stupid mouth.
Brimson, irascibly patient and hysterically
persevering, drilled his good-natured pupil,
day in and day out, up and down the pages
of Webster's Spelling-book, and back and
forth through the mazes of McGuffey's
First Reader. To Rory all this was a
sort of fascinating and yet singularly vexa-
tious punishment, to which he went with
perfunctory promptness and from which
he escaped with a sense of taking a deep,
inspiring draught of thankfulness. He
often gazed during lesson-time on the
slender, bloodless cheeks, the sunken pale
blue eyes, and the broad, high forehead of
his master, while a vague but powerful
realization of the Caucasian's superb en-
dowments crept through his benighted
consciousness. A glimmer of ambition,
mysteriously moonlike and wan to Rory's
vision, began to spread over the much
thumbed pages of the books.
" Knowledge air power," urged Brimson
146 A RACE ROMANCE
— " hit sattingly air, Rory ; an' him thet
reads air him thet conquers."
" Dat 's so, mars' ; dat 's so," responded
Rory, his voice as vacant as his face.
" Ye see," continued Brimson, crossing
the attenuated index finger of his right
hand over the corresponding member of his
left, and drawing his earnest little face into
a wisp of wrinkles — " ye see, Rory, this air
er day o' liberal idees an' 'mazin' progress.
Hit air the day o' fraternity an' ekal
" Dat 's so, mars' ; dat 's so."
" The nigger race '11 be ekal ter any
race under heving jes' as soon as it kin
read an' write, Rory."
" Dat 's so, mars' ; dat 's so."
The years stole past, and the monotony
of life in Sassafras Pocket scarcely varied
a hair's breadth until the great war came
on and freedom began to send its puffs of
freshness and fragrance through the air in
advance of the steadily moving armies of
A RACE ROMANCE I47
Sherman and Grant. Rory, by some in-
direct flash of perception, foresaw the com-
ing of emancipation long before his mas-
ter had dared to dream of such a thing ;
but it brought him no special pleasure.
Brimson had been fairly kind to him, and
there was something in the negro's heart
that drew it tenderly towards the little old
man. This tenderness was neither love
nor genuine respect ; it was more a mere
active quality of Rory's nature. In fact,
between the black man and the white
there had long ago risen a vague but pow-
erful apparition of danger, which both had
tried to brush aside with sentimental rec-
ognition of their need of each other.
*' Hit air inlightenment thet you kin git
out'n me, Rory, an' hit air work thet I
kin git out'n you," argued Brimson.
" Yah, sah ; dat 's so," assented Rory.
The war went crashing past them, a
great roaring sea of flame and smoke and
blood ; but not one ripple of it found a
148 A RACE ROMANCE
way into the remote security of Sassafras
Pocket. The Emancipation Proclamaition
never reached them, and peace had been
established for months before they found
Meantime Brimson's patience and zeal-
ous earnestness in the cause of rescuing
Rory from heathen ignorance had risen
to higher and higher planes of self-devo-
tion; but strangely enough did the negro
respond. He developed, it is true, and
rapidly took on a most interesting veneer-
ing of knowledge, so to speak, outstripping
his teacher at certain turns of the race, and
evincing now and again a most wonderful
acumen; and yet the barbaric nature within
him seemed to deepen and broaden apace
with his educational acquirements. His
taste for baked 'possum grew more intense,
and his proficiency in banjo-picking won-
derfully increased, as if his imagination
were liberating itself altogether along sav-
A RACE ROMANCE 149
Brimson obeyed an opposite law, grow-
ing more and more pale, thin, and ner-
vous-looking, while his hair whitened and
his forehead assumed a more pronounced
scholarly baldness, touched with a bland,
wavering philanthropic sheen which added
to his countenance, naturally none too
strong, the appearance of being about to
fall into a nebulous state of disintegration.
" Ye 're free now, Rory," he said one
day, when at last the news had come to
the pocket, "an' hit air yer juty ter show
up freedom at her best paces. Look up
at the flag, Rory; look up at the flag o'
liberty ! Hit air yer flag, Rory — yer flag
thet yer forefathers fit fer at Buncombe
Hill an' Sarytogy Lane ! Gaze onto the
yearth, Rory, fer hit jes' nat'rally berlongs
ter ye. Take hit, Rory, an' rule over hit,
fer ye 've yarnt hit by yer endoorin' intelli-
gence an' patriotism ! "
Rory looked up, as he was bidden, but
saw no flag ; and as for the earth, that part
150 A RACE ROMANCE
of it visible from his point of view was
merely Sassafras Pocket with its rim of
" Hit air the leadin' doctrine o' moral
ph'los'phy thet ter the victor berlongs the
lands, temptations, an' haryditerments,"
continued Brimson, mopping his brow ;
" an' now air yer time er never, Rory."
"Yah, sah; dat's so, sah," said Rory.
" I gwine ter 'fleet on it p'intedly, sah."
The war being over and the freedom of
the colored race having been accomplished,
the inhabitants of the Pine-log region be-
gan slowly to relax their feelings towards
Brimson, and in due time he was once
more received among the visitors at the
still-house, albeit he could feel that his re-
lations with his neighbors were yet pretty
violently strained, no matter what attempts
were made to conceal the old dislike. He
was not a man to care much for public
opinion, so long as he felt that public opin-
ion was wrong and his opinion was right ;
A RACE ROMANCE 15 1
and now that his privilege of free speech
was no longer withheld, he enjoyed to the
fullest airing the philosophy he had been
storing during all these years of social
exclusion and unremitting study.
" He air jest 'zactly the same ole aber-
lition eejit thet he was afore the war," ex-
claimed Squire Lem Rookey, whose judi-
cial caution had been somewhat shaken
by the cataclysm of rebellion, " an' I jest
wush thet he hed ter maul rails under er
nigger boss fer the next forty-nine years."
" I hearn Gabe Holly say thet Bud
Peevy tole him thet Wiley Brimson air
still er-talkin' up nigger soope'ority ter
thet black Rory," remarked Sol Rowe.
" Seem lak some fellers cayn't I'arn no
sense w'en they hev the chaince."
The real truth was that the neighbor-
hood viewed with surprise the turn affairs
seemed to be taking over in the little
pocket, where the relations between the
white man and the black, although greatly
152 A RACE ROMANCE
altered in name, appeared to be even more
profitable than under the old order of
things. Brimson himself was inclined to
speak boastfully of the fact that it was no
loss to him that Rory had been made free.
" Look at my craps," he exclaimed ;
" they is bigger an' better 'an they ever
was in them slavery days. Freedom an'
edication hev made er enlightened laborer
of Rory. He seem ter take er wider view
o' the lay o' life 'an he did w'en he war in
the gallin' chains of onhuman bondage."
Some of the more impatient and belli-
cose men of the settlement could with diffi-
culty brook Brimson's arguments and al-
lusions. Personal violence surely would
have been indulged in had it riot been for
Brimson's age and physical weakness.
" I 'd slap 'im clean through onto the
other side o' hisself, w'en he gits ter talkin'
thet ther' way, ef he wusn't so dern puny-
lookin'," remarked Bud Peevy ; " but he
do look more like er runt pig 'at 's fed on
A RACE ROMANCE 153
buttermilk 'an any one man I ever see in
all my life."
If there had been a disinterested on-
looker at Sassafras Pocket, the proceed-
ings there would have furnished him much
food for reflection as well as no little
amusement. Brimson was pressing edu-
cation upon Rory with ever-increasing in-
sistence, and the negro, though now well
along in middle life, was beginning to
show the first signs of genuine advance
towards self-regard in the matter.
" How kin dis book-l'arnin' eber do me
any good ? Ain't I er nigger all de same,
arter I done fill myse'f full o' dat edica-
tion ? " he would demand, wagging his
head half willfully, half doubtfully. " Tell
me dat, now."
" Wat ef ye air er nigger ? Wat do thet
ermount to ? Ain't the Constertootion of
the Union done said 'at all men is free an'
ekal ? Ain't ye er man same as any-
154 A RACE ROMANCE
" Dat 's SO, boss ; dat 's so."
This was the first time that Rory ever
had substituted " boss " for " mars' " in
talking to Brimson. The latter accepted
the change with all the secret pleasure
of a teacher who is proud of his work.
" An' Rory, ef ye r'ally desires the rege-
lar ole b'iled-down essence o' percoon-root
freedom, ye mus' jest re'ch out an' take
hit," he went on, as if delivering a set lec-
ture to the negro, who stood before him a
black giant whose massive proportions ap-
peared to be increasing day by day.
" Dat 's so, boss ; dat 's so. I 's been er
sorter calc'latin' 'bout dat yer lately."
" Well, I 'd s'pose hit war erbout time ye
was usin' yer gumtion er leetle," continued
Brimson, excited and encouraged by Rory's
signs of interest. " 'F I 's you, I 'd take my
proper position into sassiety, an' I 'd wrest
f'om the white man my jus' dues. Wat
hev ye done all yer life } Ye 've worked
fer the white man. W'at hev ye got fer
A RACE ROMANCE 155
hit ? Victuals an' clothes ; whar 'r the
land ye 've yarnt ? Hit b'longs ter the
white man. 'F I 's you, I 'd take hit er-
way f'om 'im. Ye'r' big an' strong, ye 've
got the power, an' ye'r' foolish ef ye don't
" Dat 's so ; dat 's so ; I 's 'sturbin' my
min' er mighty heap 'bout dat fing lately ;
sho 's you born, I is, boss."
"'Sturbin' yer mind, 'sturbin' yer mind!"
cried Brimson, with eloquent impatience.
" W'y don't ye act ? W'y don't ye show
up yer power .? Wat hev I been er-larnin
ye all this time ? "
Gradually, under this sort of pressure,
Rory lost his childlike simplicity, and his
bubbling, jocund humor was changed into
something bordering on moroseness. He
avoided Brimson at times and brooded
aside, as if contemplating some deep and
troublesome problem. Whatever it was, it
took him a long while to satisfy his mind
in regard to it ; for the months and years
156 A RACE ROMANCE
went by, while he slowly changed from a
careless, happy negro to a strangely reti-
cent savage in appearance. So gradual,
indeed, was this transformation, or rather
quasi reversion to type, that Brimson did
not fully realize it.
The pocket had no visitors now, the
men of the Pine-log having dropped Brim-
son again when his doctrines of " freedom
an' ekality " had becorhe absolutely un-
bearable to them ; and the two, the white
and the black, were left undisturbed, while
the former perfected the latter's education
and engendered in him the full measure of
a doctrine whose immense fascination at
last overcame every opposition in his gen-
ial temperament and aroused all the dor-
mant barbarism of his nature. Not that
in the worst sense Rory became bad ; the
change in him was more a development
of the ancient strain of African character,
which had come to him by hereditary
descent, but which had needed just this
A RACE ROMANCE 1 57
patient drilling by the white man to coax
it up to something like ancestral force and
It was a red-letter day for Brimson
when at last Rory assumed full equality
with him by addressing him as Mr. Brim-
son. It was done in a manner so superb,
too, with a gesture and a bodily pose over-
powering to one of Brimson's nervous
habit. Rory noted the effect with evident
satisfaction, while Brimson felt a fine sense
of self-gratulation suffused throughout his
diminutive frame. At last he had forced
the light of high civilization into the ne-
gro's soul, he thought, and henceforth
Rory would be a man and a brother, im-
bued with all the subtle forces of the most
advanced nineteenth-century life.
" No, Mr. Brimson ; I cayn't saddle yo'
boss fer yo' any mo', 'ceptin'" yo' calls me
Mr. Marting," said Rory, with enormous
gravity, but with a certain imposing awk-
wardness which had its weight.
158 A RACE ROMANCE
" Never heerd afore 'at that war yer
name," apologized Brimson, as soon as he
could find the words.
" Dat 's hit ; dat 's my name. Mr. Mar-
ting, sah; Mr. Marting," responded Rory,
with great emphasis and pride.
Brimson felt an almost irresistible swell
of laughter within him, and, strange to say,
along with it an impulse towards lifting
his foot and kicking Rory off the veranda.
What he did do, however, was to say : —
" Beg parding, Mr. Marting ; but ef ye
please, sir, fetch out ole Sor'l an' saddle
'im. I hes er notion ter go erp ter the
Late on the evening following, Brimson
returned to his home a pretty badly pun-
ished man. He had talked too much to
the wrong person on his favorite topic.
He was in a desperate mood, which found
vent in the most intemperate and sweep-
ing emphasis of his pet opinions.
" 'F I 's er nigger, I '11 be blamed ef I
A RACE ROMANCE 159
w'u'd n't rise erp an' jest nat'rally clean
erp the whole endoorin' white race ! " he
raged forth, as he followed Rory down to
the little rickety log stable, where old Sor-
rel was to be housed.
" Dat 's so, Mr. Brimson ; dat 's so," said
Rory. " Dat 's jest w'at I 's been er mem'-
rizin' w'ile yo' be'n gone."
" I 'd rob em ; I 'd take the'r lan's,
temptations, an' haryditerments ; I 'd mek
slaves out'n every two-legged one of 'em ;
I 'd pay 'em back fer the'r meanness an'
everlastin' onery cussedness, blame ef I
w'u'd n't, Rory," continued the white man.
" Dat 's so, Brimson ; dat 's w'at I be'n
er-studyin' out w'ile yo' be'n gone ter-day,
Brimson," responded Rory.
There was something in his voice which
went like a sudden chill through the hot
rage of the quondam master.
As when a man has been lost in the
woods, and all at once, by a seeming whirl,
things right themselves and he knows
l6o A RACE ROMANCE
where he is, Brimson discovered an aston-
ishing but quite natural state of affairs.
Rory unsaddled old Sorrel and put him
into the stable ; then he came out, shut
the door, and said : —
•' I 's done concluded, Brimson, 'at I 's
de boss roun' yeah. So yo' mought jes' as
well take yo' med'cine right now ! "
"Wat— w'at air the matter, Rory.?"
Rory stretched forth his brawny hand,
and, gripping the white man's collar, fairly
lifted him from the ground.
" Brimson," he growled, " did n' I tol'
yo' ter call me Mr. Marting ? Yo' 's gwine
ter ketch it ef yo' Rory 's dis pusson any
mo' ! Yo' mem'rize dat, will yo' ! "
After this Brimson was not seen abroad
in the Pine-log region, and for months,
perhaps years, little thought was given to
him by the people. Often enough Rory
was observed going to mill on old Sorrel,
or riding to and from the country town ;
'CALL ME MR. MARTING"
A RACE ROMANCE l6l
but no suspicion of the true status over
in Sassafras Pocket was aroused until one
day Bud Peevy, by merest accident, dis-
covered the whole thing.
He was sitting on a huge fragment of
lichen-covered limestone not far from the
dim little trail which led into the Pocket.
His gun was lying across his knees, and
he was fretfully wondering what had be-
come of the brindle cow he had been look-
ing for, when a voice, accompanied by the
sound of shuffling feet, came to his ears
from some point above him.
" Hit jest do beat de bery debbil how I
hab ter war my feets off clean up ter de
ankles er-runnin' af'er yo', blame yo' ole
hide ! "
The voice was a negro's, strong, soft,
vibrant, full of the peculiar African timbre.
It was resolute, brimming with self-asser-
tion, and yet, in a way, it was suggestive
of something like what one might call
brutal tenderness. " De bery nex' time
l62 A RACE ROMANCE
'at yo' runs erway I jes' gwine ter w'ar yo'
out! Ye' see 'f I don', Brimson."
The footfalls came nearer, but the dense
foliage shut out from Peevy's view every-
thing more than instantaneous glimpses
of the approaching forms of two men.
" Dar 's dat co'n jes' er-gittin' ready ter
be hoed, an' dar 's dem dar 'bacco plants
jes' ready ter be sot out, an' yar yo' is er-
runnin' erway ag'in, dog gone yo' ! "
Peevy craned his long, lean neck to see,
if possible, what strange thing was about
to appear, but he was not altogether pre-
pared for that which presently emerged
from the grove and passed along the little
road not a rod from him.
" Git erlong yar, I toF yo' ! " continued
the resonant voice. " 'Fo' de Lor', I jest
erbout cut yo' all ter pieces wid dis yar
whorp fust ting yo' knows ! W'a' yo'
be'n ter all dis time, anyhow? Yo' look
poorty now, don' yo' } S'pose I 's gwine
let yo' go er-feeshin' eber' day, does yo' ? "
A RACE ROMANCE 163
Peevy noticed that a bluejay in a thorn-
bush just beyond the road was preparing
to fly away, and by this sign he knew that
the men would soon appear.
" Wat I feed yo' fer, an' w'at I furnish
yo' dem dar clo's fer, 'ceptin' yo' gwine ter
wo'k fer me? Who yo' b'long ter any-
how ; tell me dat, won't you ? Yo' eats
more 'n ary two peegs an' fo' mules, an' 'en
yo' jes' don' want ter wo'k one libin' lick.
Bet I 's gwine ter mek yo' fink yo' hide
done made out'n red pepper an' smartin'-
weeds 'fo' I 's got done wid yo' ! Walk
Certain sharp sounds, as if from heavy
blows laid on with a long limber stick
or rod, emphasized these vocal perform-
ances. Peevy felt a strange thrill run
through his nerves. The bluejay sud-
denly left its thorn-bush and flew away
like a shimmering blue streak through the
light mountain air.
" Lif dem foots libely ; lif 'em mo' 'an
l64 A RACE ROMANCE
libely ! Git erp an' waddle, blame yo' ol'
hide, er I jest p'intedly '11 frail de whole
laigs off' n yo' clean up ter yo' gallusses !
Lif dem foots, I says, er I gwine raise 'em
fer yo' wid dis yar hick'ry, see 'f I don't ! "
The first figure that broke from the
dusky cover of the wood was the form of a
small, lean old man, whose thin, white
locks were laid in sleek strands across a
bald spot on his head, and whose high
forehead was wrinkled into a network of
most appealing worry and fright. He
wore no hat, but in one hand he carried
a dilapidated bell-crowned straw tile, while
in the other, tightly clutched, rested a long
cane fishing-rod, from which dangled a
short, much tangled line, and his counte-
nance, drawn, shrunken, and pathetic, ex-
pressed with more power than any form of
words could the dread he felt of the
storming negro behind him.
" I 's gwine ter mek de dus' rise out'n yo'
gyarments tell yo' fink some pusson done
A RACE ROMANCE 165
built er fire under 'em an' dey 's smokin'
like er tah kiln ! "
Along with this gush of vehement rage
out came Rory in close pursuit of the
panting white man, whom Peevy now rec-
ognized as Wiley Brimson.
The negro bore in his hand a long, flex-
ible hickory gad, the end of which was
much frayed from the effect of rapid blows
delivered with it on the ground close to
the heels of his scudding victim. The
pursuer was in a state of such concen-
trated earnestness of purpose that he
looked neither to the right nor to the left,
but held his massive shoulders very high,
at the same time thrusting his head forward
and downward. The tuft of grizzled woolly
beard on his chin was flecked with the
foam of his strenuous scolding.- His strides
were melodramatic in their length and
swing, while the collapsed brim of his old
hat flapped energetically to the motion of
his muscular body.
l66 A RACE ROMANCE
Something poetically savage, like a sug-
gestion from Homer, or like a thought
half-expressed by some ancient, rude in-
scription, beamed from that corrugated
African face. Browning might have set
such a sketch in verse ; Giotto could have
fixed it on a panel. Even Peevy was
aware of its significance, as the white man,
passing him, flung out towards him a
quick, appealing, despairing glance.
" Keep yo' nose straight afore yo', er I 's
gwine ter wa'm yo' laigs tell yo' feels lak
yo' 's er-wadin' in b'ilin' tah up ter yo'
wais', wid er red-hot eel er-floppin' roun'
yo' blame spindlin' shanks ! Git erlong, I
An indescribable expression came into
Peevy's face as he watched this strange pro-
cession go by in the direction of Sassafras
Pocket and disappear amid the low-hang-
ing sprays of the wood. The voice came
bellowing back from time to time, gradu-
ally modified by distance and intervening
A RACE ROMANCE 167
objects, until, at last, mellow and far, it had
something of lyric softness in its notes.
" Hate ter be erbleeged ter frail de pelt
clean off'n yo', Brimson, an' hab yo' gwine
roun' yer like er fresh-skinned possum ;
but ef yo' will run erway, w'y, I s'pose I 's
got ter let yo' hab it in yarnest. Hustle
erlong yah, I tole yo'! I cayn't stan' no
foolin' ! "
The strokes of the gad upon the ground,
given with rhythmical regularity, made a
sort of rude counterpoint which added a
singular effect to the now but faintly echo-
Presently silence closed in and was not
broken till the bluejay came chattering
back to its thorn-bush, where it shone like
a gem amid the tender green sprays.
Peevy drew a deep breath and began to
chuckle reflectively as he rubbed the long,
heavy barrel of his gun with his sleeve.
" Jest 'zac'ly as I 'spected," he said to
himself, pausing to puff out his gaunt.
l68 A RACE ROMANCE
thinly bearded cheeks; *' thet thar nigger
hev finally tuk the hint ! " He shook his
head and shut one eye. " S'pose hit 's
edication er workin' out ! "
Once more Rory's voice, favored by a
gentle current of wind, came distinctly
back to him.
" Now yo' jes' grab dat hoe poorty libely,
ole feller, an' git inter dat co'n patch mighty
sudden, er I 's gwine ter 'bout finish yo'
erp. Drap dat fish-pole, I tole yo' ! Drap
it, I says!"
Peevy arose and shouldered his gun
preparatory to making further and more
diligent search for the brindle cow. As
he walked away he continued to chuckle
at intervals in that dry manner known to
" Hit don't take quite alius ter edicate
er nigger ; hit air mos'ly er matter o' stick-
in' ter it, as Brimson hev — Thar 's that
thar dern cow, now ! "
A DUSKY GENIUS
The founder of a school of thought, the
originator of a new strain in art, or the
discoverer in the domain of science — any
one of these is a tempting subject for an
essay ; but I hesitate to begin, although I
feel sure of the unusual interest that the
story of Rack Dillard's life and labors must
command. Were it possible to set the
man before the world, to be flesh and blood,
not even the most cunning art could add
to the effect, for Rack Dillard was a genius
of no doubtful quality, as a few of the
world's keenest intellects have already
He was a black negro slave, illiterate of
course, or nearly so ; a lover of tobacco ; a
Baptist in faith, and yet somewhat given
to the use of profane language. Presently
I70 A DUSKY GENIUS
you shall see that he was the general type
of his race, — a personal forecast of the
influence to be exerted by slavery upon the
civilization which was to follow in the wake
of freedom. His genius was but a slender
strain, it is true, and the results of his labors
appear slight ; but we must keep our stand-
ard just while we measure. He was a
slave throughout the flower of his life,
drawing not one breath of absolute liberty
before he was seventy years old, unable to
read or write until after he was seventy-
six, and quite ignorant of the simplest ele-
ments of mathematics even when he died
in triumph at the ripe old age of eighty-
three. And yet he occupies a high place,
despite the extreme restrictions and rigid
limitations of his life. You will note that
I say a high place now, for his elevation,
as has been the case too often with genius,
was not reached until after his death, which
took place in 1872, at his humble little
home in Rabun County, Georgia. Pilgrim
A DUSKY GENIUS 171
devotees of the new school in art, enthusi-
astic followers of the latest form of science,
are beginning to make Rack Dillard's
grave a shrine ; and the man who owns
the rude cabin where this remarkable ne-
gro lived and worked so long is making a
handsome income by demanding of every
visitor a small fee, for the privilege of en-
Last spring, returning from a sojourn at
Bay Saint Louis, I bent my course so as
to spend a week in the region made classic
by Lanier, — the high hill country through
whose valleys and gorges flow, with here
a purple pool and there a foaming cata-
ract, the two most beautiful rivers in the
world, the Tallulah and the Ulufta. It
was not to verify Lanier's musical descrip-
tion, however, that I went up through the
valleys of Hall into the heart of the Blue
Ridge. The tender jingle of the poet's
rhymes may have been in my ears, —
doubtless it was, — but my thoughts were
1/2 A DUSKY GENIUS
busy with the revolution that Rack Dil-
lard had wrought in a certain domain of
art and with the effect he had upon one of
the greatest forces in our civilization. I
felt the picturesqueness, and, if I may say
it, the fitness of the sketch I might make
out of the materials of the old negro's life.
It seemed to me that the world had not
done its duty by him, and that his influ-
ence, while it had been made the most of
by a few enthusiasts, had not been properly
acknowledged in a public way. It is true,
as I have said, that certain zealous and
highly enlightened men and women, mostly
Southerners, to their credit be it said, have
formed a quiet but efficient society devoted
to the study of Dillard's, or, as it is usually
called, Rack's philosophy, and some of the
members make pilgrimages to Rack's grave;
still the world has been kept in ignorance
of him for whom the cult exists and by
whom the school was founded.
The mountains of Rabun County are, I
A DUSKY GENIUS 173
believe, the cerebral part of the great Blue
Ridge, the vertebral column, the culmi-
nation, the flower of what is, perhaps, the
most interesting chain of upheaval in
America. The region is an extremely dry,
isolated, and lonely one, with every ele-
ment in its air, its quietude, and its stabil-
ity of conditions to make it a congenial
habitat for Philosophy. Naturally it
would be hard for news to escape from
such a place, and, besides, mountain peo-
ple are uncommunicative to an exasper-
That Rack Dillard, the first man of
science (both chronologically and in point
of eminence) given by the negro race of
America — that this preeminent, though
illiterate, savant should have spent his
whole length of days in the foothills by
the rocky banks of the Ulufta, a slave most
of the time, — for more than threescore
and ten years as I have said, — is a ro-
mance which grips the imagination more
174 A DUSKY GENIUS
engagingly than can any story of trouba-
dour or any chronicle of the age of heroes
Dillard's cabin, kept now by a shrewd
Yankee for gain, is reached by a narrow
clay road, slipping away from the pretty
mountain village of Clayton and winding
its course like a brick-red serpent through
a dry, rugged, often picturesque country.
As one advances, the character of the
landscape assumes that composite quality
so attractive to the artist and the geologist.
The road, slowly shrinks, as a river that
loses itself in sand, and at last becomes a
mere shadowy path, leaf-strewn and bough-
shaded, drawn through the stony, brushy,
silent hills to the foot of the mountain
known locally by the appropriate but not
over-euphonious name of the Hog Back.
For some distance before reaching the
Dillard cabin, or, as it is better known,
Rack's house, one follows the course of the
beautiful Ulufta, with the bubbling water
A DUSKY GENIUS 175
on one side of him and the tumbling, dis-
torted, and rock-pierced foothills on the
other. If he is a sportsman and has
brought his tackle with him, here are pools
and swirls whereon he shall not cast a fly-
in vain, since every stone in the stream
has a shadow in which lurks a bass. The
man of science will find much to study on
every hand, and the artist could not ask
for a more varied and fascinating field for
his sketch-book and pencil. As for my-
self, somewhat given to the practices of
the sportsman, the artist, and the votary of
science, all in turn, not a step of the way
failed to interest me vividly. Looking
back at it now, the little journey fills me
with a sense of the picturesque and the ro-
mantic, touched with a dry, arid, preserva-
tive quality quite indescribable, yet distinct.
The huge fragmentary rocks with their
sear gray lichens worn, like faded rosettes,
upon their imperishable breasts ; the trees,
now stunted, now very tall, as the soil
176 A DUSKY GENIUS
varied or the species alternated, touched
with green and yellowish mosses near the
ground ; the sound of the breeze overhead,
and the murmur of the river here or a
spring-stream there ; the fragrance of open-
ing buds and springing spathes ; the
voices of birds, many of them migrants,
like myself, dallying for a day or two —
all these, with glimpses of high precipices
and far blue peaks, the whole overarched
with a tender, almost violet sky, linger
with me, as vague as a dream, as real as
the furniture in my study, making up one
of the most striking and perpetually differ-
entiated impressions set in my memory.
When at last one turns aside from what
by courtesy is the main road, he approaches
Dillard's cabin from the west, the gravelly
bed of a bright brooklet serving as guide.
The structure appears to lean for support
against the face of a perpendicular cliff
whose fringe of cedars, stunted and gnarled,
overtops the decaying and mossy roof that
A DUSKY GENIUS 1/7
slants forward so as to cover a rude porch
or veranda in front, near which stands the
stump of an old mulberry-tree. Thanks
to the keen business sense of the Yankee,
the place has been kept just as Rack left
it, with all its furniture and belongings
From the cabin door a well-worn path
curves round the corner of the escarpment
and turns over the hill-spur to the much
more pretentious dwelling formerly owned
and occupied by Rack's master, Judge
Spivey Dillard, a somewhat eccentric man,^
who during the latter part of his life de-
voted all his time in a way to biological
investigations and to reading the works of
Darwin, Owen, Macgillivray, and Alfred
Wallace. He was a bachelor, living alone,
surrounded with such luxury as he cared
for, leaving to his slaves the management
of a valuable plantation in bottom lands of
the Ulufta River.
Rack was about sixty years old when
178 A DUSKY GENIUS
his master retired him from active field
work and permitted him to assume the
lighter duties of a house servant — a man
of chores, to come from his cabin at any
moment, day or night, rain or shine, when-
ever the judge blew a blast upon a small
tin horn kept for the purpose.
Doubtless it was from his master, who
as his years increased became more and
more inclined to scientific garrulousness,
that Rack caught the first suggestion
which led to his singular, and under the
circumstances successful, career in a slen-
der but interesting course of science and
The earliest intimation of the negro's
work in his chosen line came to the judge
one day when he blew his horn and for
the first time Rack failed to answer the
summons. A second blast had no better
effect, and a third echoed away through
the woods without response. Judge Dil-
lard felt sure that his faithful servant had
A DUSKY GENIUS 1/9
met with some ill, and acting upon the
moment's impulse, hastened over to Rack's
cabin, where he found the old fellow in a
rapt state, seated on his sheepskin stool
under the then flourishing mulberry-tree.
The judge thought that Rack was asleep ;
the suggestion engendered rage.
"Rack, what do you mean here, you
lazy old lubber you ? I '11 wear you as
thin as a hand-saw in half a minute ! " he
exclaimed, rushing upon the negro and
shaking him till he fairly rattled.
Rack bounced up and drew in a deep,
" Why did n't you answer that horn, you
old vagabond ? " continued the judge, giv-
ing Rack two or three resounding cuffs.
" Tell me, or I '11 mash every ultimate
molecule in the tissues of your body!"
Rack dodged, grunted, and gasped again,
getting his breath as a man who comes out
of a plunge in cold water.
" Lost your tongue, have you? " the judge
l8o A DUSKY GENIUS
went on, still cuffing vigorously. " I '11
stir up your nerve-cells and jar your gan-
glions into activity ; I '11 knock all your
foramens into one ; I '11 make magma of
you ; I '11 reduce you to protoplasmic
pulp ! "
The negro soon got himself together,
and tore away from his master's grasp.
His voice came to him at the same time,
and it was no child's voice.
" Stop dat ! stop dat ! " he exclaimed,
dodging meantime sundry blows and kicks.
" Yo' don' know w'at yo' doin', Mars' Spi-
vey ; 'fo' de Lor', yo' don' ! "
But the judge did not stop until quite
out of breath and otherwise exhausted.
He had managed to hurt himself much
more than he had punished the negro, and
now, panting and glaring, he sank upon
the stool, his grizzled beard quivering and
his hat awry.
" I 's pow'ful s'prise at yo', Mars' Spivey ;
'fo' Gor, I is," Rack remarked, wiping the
A DUSKY GENIUS l8l
perspiration from his face with his sleeve,
while, with his feet apart, he squared him-
self in front of the judge. " Wen yo' bus'
in on dat ca'c'lation o' mine, yo' jes' eber-
lastin' did play de bery debil wid er 'ves-
tigation ob science, I tell yo'."
Judge Dillard's fiery eyes, still bent upon
his servant's face, shot forth a queer gleam
as Rack uttered the word " science." Prob-
ably if he had not been so very blown and
tired he would have renewed his assault
and battery, but the sheepskin stool, with
its deep, soft fleece, was a restful seat.
" Wen yo' begin yo' wo'k onto me jes'
now," Rack went on, " er-thumpin' me ober
de head, an' er-whangin' me in de face an'
eyes, an' er-jerkin' de bery liver and lights
out'n me, I 's jes' at dat time ready ter
re'ch fo' a 'elusion in biorology, an' yo'
knock it plumb frough me an' stomp it
inter de ye'th."
By this time the judge had recollected
what it was that he wanted of Rack.
I82 A DUSKY GENIUS
" You just biology off to the stable, and
take Bald Eagle " — that was his saddle-
horse — " over to the blacksmith's shop
and have his shoes reset, and. Rack, the
very next time that you go to sleep and
don't hear my horn I '11 take you down
country and sell you, see if I don't ! " He
delivered this order, set with the sting of
the most terrible threat known to an up-
country slave, in a tone which made Rack's
soul shiver. The negro stood not on the
manner of his going, but went forthwith to
do the task assigned him.
Judge Dillard remained on the soft stool,
and, leaning his head against the cool bark
of the mulberry-tree, gazed idly up into the
thick, dark foliage, now splashed with the
soft purple of ripening berries. His recent
exertion and excitement had left him quite
averse to further physical or mental effort ;
indeed, the reaction gradually engendered
in him that dreamy, misty mood which in
its soothing restfulness is next to sleep.
A DUSKY GENIUS 183
A woodpecker, with a black jacket and a
scarlet head, came and alighted on a cor-
ner of the cabin roof where a course pro-
jected. It eyed the judge a moment, then
beat a fine rolling tattoo on the resonant
end of a warped board. The sound was a
peculiar one, double in its nature, the sec-
ond or undertone being a strange, vibrant
strain, sweet as the softest note of flute or
violin. The judge's ears were in just the
most receptive condition ; the vague, sweet
ringing chord flowed in and spread through-
out his senses. A mocking-bird had been
flitting about in the mulberry-tree over-
head, and the judge noticed that it had
the peculiar habit of fetching mulberries
to a certain point on a stout bough, where
it thrust them into a small pit or knot-hole,
and, after churning them for a little while
with its beak, drank their rich subacid
To the half-dreaming man of science ob-
servations of this nature were distantly sug-
I84 A DUSKY GENIUS
gestive. His lips moved, and he murmured,
" Strange that while the harsh-voiced mela-
nerpes erythrocephalus is drawing aboriginal
music from a fragment of pinus mitis, the
silver-tongued mimus polyglottus is content
to make cider from the insipid fruit of morus
rubra'' At the sound of his words both
birds flew away as if terribly frightened.
The judge was a good-hearted man,
though rather hasty-tempered, and when
his calmer mind began to contemplate the
treatment given Rack a while ago, a twinge
of remorse shot through it. He recalled,
with a vague sense of its extreme novelty,
the fact that Rack had claimed, and with
intense seriousness, that his lapse from
duty had been owing to complete absorp-
tion in a scientific investigation. The
judge chuckled heartily, then became
grave, as the phases of the situation passed
from ludicrous to pathetic. What if, after
all, a negro could comprehend and follow
the golden threads of biological study .f*
A DUSKY GENIUS 185
What if he, Judge Spivey Dillard, jurist
and scientist, had thumped and cuffed and
pounded a man, black though he was and
born slave, just at the moment when a
mystery of life was beginning to make it-
self comprehensible to his understanding ?
The thought was heavy with suggestions
over which the judge pondered deep and
long ; then he slept, leaning heavily against
the tree, while the dry mountain air fanned
his furrowed face and shook the grizzled
beard that fringed his lank jaws and pro-
truding chin. Through his slumber fell
the sweet bouquet of the luscious berries
and the tender rustle of the broad leaves.
The woodpecker returned again and again
to sound a bar or two of his queer music
on the old warped board, and the mock-
ing-bird ventured back to the little pit
wherein he churned his mulberries and
made his fragrant wine.
Judge Dillard awoke just as Rack came
shuffling down the path, returning from
l86 A DUSKY GENIUS
doing his errand. The old gentleman
heard the familiar footfalls, rubbed his
eyes, yawned, and stretched himself. Rack,
lifting both hands and expanding his eyes
dramatically, exclaimed : —
"Well, 'fo' de Lor', Mars' Spivey! yo'
loungin' roun' yer yit ? Wha' gwine hap-
pen nex', I wonder ? Been 'sleep all dis
The judge yawned again, but he was
eyeing Rack keenly, as if to look through
and through him. The old slave noted
this with misgiving, secretly fearing, in-
deed, that something was going to be said
on the subject of a hand of fine leaf to-
bacco that he had surreptitiously ab-
stracted from his master's store not long
since ; but the judge merely remarked that
he had been feeling a trifle drowsy, and
then added : —
" Sit down there. Rack," indicating a
corner of the porch-floor. " I want to in-
terrogate you touching biology."
A DUSKY GENIUS 187
It would be tedious and quite uninstruc-
tive to insert here the long dialogue that
ensued between the judge and his slave.
The almost unpronounceable words, the
Greek and Latin phrases, and the Dar-
winian quotations indulged in by the white
man, were thoroughly equilibrated by the
savage interpretation of them rendered by
the negro. To say that Rack reveled in
the conversation would be but a shadowy
expression of the truth. Indeed, his enjoy-
ment was ecstatic, even excruciating, as
was proved by his bodily writhing and his
facial contortions. For how many long
years had he been furtively catching de-
tached bits of his master's learning, grow-
ing hungrier and thirstier day by day for
the full draught he was now taking in!
Every precious word of the jargon of
science caught by his ears had been held
in the tenacious grip of memory. He had
crooned over them in the depth of the
night ; he had sung them in the field ; he
l88 A DUSKY GENIUS
had conned them while hunting the fa-
mous 'possum of the Ulufta valley, until
they had entered into the innermost fibres
of his life, so to speak, and been assimi-
lated perfectly without being in the least
Nor was Judge Spivey Dillard less
charmed than his slave with the occasion
current. He came near forgetting to ask
Rack for further explanation of the alleged
investigation which had led to the recent
encounter ; but he caught himself just in
time. Rack was ready, nay eager to en-
lighten his master.
" Well, sah, Mars' Spivey," he began,
crossing his index fingers in front of him,
" dat wa' er ques'ion ob de general aberage
ob ci'cumstances ; or, speakin' mo' plainer,
it wa' jes' dis : what air de biorology ob de
singin'-boa'd, an' er mockin'-bird 'at feeds
er mu'berry limb, an' er' possum w'at go
out, jes' like er can'le w'en yo' blow it?"
The judge, more from long habit than
A DUSKY GENIUS 189
from any desire to have this apparently
absurd proposition simplified, straightened
himself up a little, and said : —
" Repeat that statement, Rack."
" Ce'tainly, sah, ce'tainly ; I gwine mek
it reas'n'ble ter yo' gum'tion, 'mejetly, sah,"
responded the negro, lifting one forefinger
and tapping the other with it.
" It 's dis here way : dey 's er dry old
boa'd 'at kin sing er chune ; dey 's er
mockin'-bird w'at feeds er mu'berry limb;
an' dey 's er wollopin' great big old 'pos-
sum 'at kin jes fade right out an' tu'n hese'f
inter nothin' w'ile yo' 's er-lookin' at 'im.
Dat 's w'at I done been er-'vestigatin' w'en
yo' try ter tah me all ter pieces dis mo'nin' ;
an' jes as yo' light outer me I was er-j'in-
in' dem fac's tergedder an' jes' er-re'chin'
out fo' de aberage ob 'im. Mighty sorry
yo' do dat, Mars' Spivey ; it gwine ter be
er great loss ter biorology, sah, sho 's yo'
The judge was disgusted in one sense,
190 A DUSKY GENIUS
and in another he was, strange to say,
deeply interested. He was curious to
know just what Rack meant by a singing-
board, a mocking-bird that fed a mul-
berry limb, and a 'possum that could ren-
der itself invisible at will. Pursuing this
curiosity, he catechized the negro after
the artful manner of a lawyer to the busi-
ness born. Rack was slow to give up his
secret, but, bit by bit, the judge drew out
the whole of it. The singing-board was
the one in the cabin's roof upon which
the woodpecker beat its long roll in the
morning. The under-hum of that sono-
rous piece of wood was still softly rever-
berating in the judge's ears. The mock-
ing-bird that fed the limb was the one that
the judge himself had seen churning mul-
berries to pulp in the opening on the
bough overhead ; but the 'possum that
could fade out and disappear had been met
by no man save Rack. And what a 'pos-
sum it was ! — as large as a six-months-
A DUSKY GENIUS I9I
old pig, with a tail quite a yard long, and
a nose that turned up almost at right an-
gles. Time and again Rack had come
upon this magnificent animal down in the
Ulufta bottoms, where the timber was
thick and heavy ; but he could by no art
known to the 'possum-hunter capture it,
for the reason that it invariably faded away
to nothing, as ghosts are said to do, leav-
ing only a faint, wan light flickering for a
moment where it had been.
Somehow when Rack, in his simple
dialect, related how for more than twenty
years he had lain in his lowly bed of morn-
ings listening to the strange, sweet vibra-
tions of that singing-board ; and how for
the same period, during every year's mul-
berry season, he had watched the mocking-
bird stuff the fruit into the hole in that
limb ; and, more than all, how for a score
of autumns and winters he had used every
means at command to capture that won-
derful 'possum, it got the judge's imagina-
192 A DUSKY GENIUS
tion aroused and set his memory to work.
His long-lost youth brought up a host of
experiences left fifty years behind, and
among them hunting the 'possum was per-
haps the raciest and most barbaric. Those
were the days when a persimmon had ex-
quisite flavor, and when muscadines were
better than any garden- grape. For a
while he tasted over again the far-away
sweets of boyhood; smelt the keen fra-
grance ; saw the gay colors ; heard the
ravishing sounds ; felt the thrill of vigor-
ous, buoyant, untainted life. Elusive, pun-
gent reminiscences came in and wandered
through his mind like bees through an old
"Yes, sah, yo' busted up er powerfu'
close ca'c'lation by yo' onreson'ble savage-
rousness dis mo'nin', Mars' Spivey," in-
sisted Rack, shaking his head dolefully,
and ending with a long, deep sigh of re-
gret. " Yo' onj'inted my 'magination."
This touched the judge, for at the mo-
A DUSKY GENIUS 193
ment he was fixing one of those shadowy
half-remembrances. Surely it was so —
yes, it was so — he vaguely recollected —
yes, once, long years ago, an opossum had
disappeared mysteriously right before his
eyes. The animal was at the time hang-
ing by its tail to the low, full-fruited bough
of a persimmon-tree ; he approached it
with a club, when, lo ! it faded away and
was gone. Now he described the incident
to Rack, who received it with delight, and
from that day forward the two men dis-
cussed at intervals the possibility of a mar-
supial's having the power of self-elimina-
tion under great stress of danger. For
some time the negro was chiefly a listener,
while his master, seated in a deep chair on
the stoop of the mansion, dilated with
much show of learning upon the isolated
position of the opossum family in the ani-
mal kingdom. The judge had a theory of
his own, to the effect that a 'possum repre-
sented humor of a more or less comic sort,
194 A DUSKY GENIUS
and he explained to Rack that it was the
'possum-eating habit among the negroes of
the South which had given them their
sense of barbaric comedy and their love of
" It is nothing in the world but 'possum-
fat," said he, " that has made such idiots of
you niggers. It makes your heads wag,
and your hands pat, and your feet dance ;
it makes you laugh at everything, and act
the fool generally. In short, Rack, 'pos-
sum-fat is the essential oil of tomfoolery
and buffoonery and absurd comicality."
But Rack was longing for a scientific
explanation of the singing-board and the
" But there is no correlation between
these simple things and the opossum ques-
tion, — no correlation whatever. Rack," the
" But I say dey is," asserted Rack, with
a vehemence that fairly startled his mas-
ter. " Dey is er corroliation, so dey is, an'
A DUSKY GENIUS 195
dat jes' w'a' I gwine show yo' w'en yo' try
ter tab me up."
" Rack, I say that there is no correlation
whatever," repHed the judge.
" Dey is — dey is, I tell yo'," retorted
The judge reached for his cane, and the
negro bolted away, as if shot from a war-
wolf, his big flat feet pounding the path
with rapid and resounding strokes until
the cabin was reached.
Rack's memory was remarkable. He
kept in mind the 'possum theory advanced
by his master, and it grew upon him day
by day, apropos of which he went about
singing the old quatrain : —
" W'en de ole 'possum gwine ter run,
His hide jes' nat'ly bu'st wid fun ;
Ef nigger knock 'im on de head,
He still keep grinnin' w'en he dead ! "
Many times the same question arose as
to the possibility of a correlation between
the singing-board, the mocking-bird that
196 A DUSKY GENIUS
fed the mulberry limb, and the opossum
that could disappear at will ; but the
disagreement of master and slave was, it
appeared, unsurmountable. The judge
finally formulated his proposition thus :
" There cannot possibly exist any correla-
tion whatever between a self-eliminating
didelphys virginiana^ a berry-eating mimus
polyglottus, and a dry fragment of pinus
mitis struck by the mandibles of melaner-
Rack was staggered, but he shook his
head doggedly, and responded with exas-
perating brevity, " I say dey is."
From the very nature of things it came
to pass that this problem in science occu-
pied every moment of Rack's gradually
increasing leisure. To solve it, and so tri-
umph over his master, would be a crowning
glory. The nebulous beginning of a solu-
tion was, in fact, forming itself like a milky
way across his mind. The judge himself
was so keenly pleased with his old slave's
A DUSKY GENIUS 197
mysterious ambition that he almost wished
him to succeed, even if it should appear
thereby that color had won precisely at the
point where color always had been sup-
posed to be weakest. Rack's enthusiasm
and zeal were tempered all the time with
such grotesque and comical humor, and
accompanied with facial contortions so ex-
pressive of savage wisdom, that a kind of
infection exhaled therefrom and insinuated
itself into the judge's imagination.
As time flew on — and how it does fly
as the evening of life draws toward night !
— Rack, while growing more and more
confident of success, became very reticent
as to the progress of his investigations.
Finally the judge discovered that some-
thing of a secret nature was in progress
down at the cabin. He questioned Rack
on the subject, but received no satisfaction,
and when he threatened and menaced the
old fellow he was reminded that a most in-
opportune assault once before had delayed
the great investigation.
198 A DUSKY GENIUS
" Cou'se you kin jump on ter me an'
w'ar me out, Mars' Spivey," said he dole-
fully and with a lugubrious twist of his
strong African face, " but ef yo' does it 's
gwine set biorology back jes' fifteen yeahs
an' fo' days mo', sho 's you 's borned. Mars'
Spivey, dat 's w'at it 's er-gwine ter do.
Jes' fifteen yeahs an' fo' days mo'."
" But, Rack, what upon earth is your
objection to telling me ? " demanded the
judge, with querulous and helpless insist-
Rack looked sidewise at his master, with
a suspicious and over-cunning leer in his
milky old eyes.
" Da' now, Mars' Spivey," he said, chuc-
kling in a low falsetto, — " da' now, yo'
know jes' es well es I does dat it not gwine
ter do fo' one scientist ter tell 'nodder
scientist any ob his disciberies afo' he git
'em fastened solid in he mind, er he steal
'em, sho 's yo' borned. Don't yo' ricomem-
ber w'en yo' read ter me in de book 'bout
A DUSKY GENIUS 199
seberal 'markable ins'ances ob dat sort er
misplaced co'fidence ? Ya', sah, yo' did,
Mars' Spivey. Now den, yo' 's er scien-
tist, ain't yo'? Well, I is too, an' I jes'
know mighty well what yo' 'd do. Yo' 'd
steal my discibery, an' jes' tu'n roun' an'
sw'ar 'at it 's yo'n ! No, sah, Mars' Spivey,
yo' don' come dat game. I 's not quite er
eejit yit ! "
Rack had his way, and the judge was
both tantalized and delighted, while the
days flew by like birds before a storm.
Year followed year, bringing no notable
change in the dry, stony mountain land-
scape. The dessicative influence of the
climate preserved things in statu quo. At
length the great war came on ; it rolled its
heavy echoes over the blue peaks to the
north and west of them, but neither master
nor slave heeded them much ; for the tie
that bound these two old men together
was stronger than the proclamation of a
President or any amendment to the Amer-
200 A DUSKY GENIUS
ican Constitution. They became more
and more attached to each other, the ne-
gro in the latter years gradually assuming
the stronger part, while the judge, whose
mind and body, weakening together, ap-
peared to be slowly drying up, gave most
of his time to watching the tedious pro-
gress of Rack's investigation.
It was one fine morning in December,
1865. The previous night had been a
clear, sharp, frosty one, crisping the late
greenery of the sturdy mountain oaks and
making mellow and luscious the persim-
mons of the Ulufta valley. The judge
was on his veranda, smoking his pipe in
the sunshine, and enjoying the soft color
show set against the steep slope of the
Hog Back, when Rack shambled up the
steps and began dancing on the floor, his
heavy shoes making a mighty racket.
" I 's got ter de eend ! I 's got to de
eend ! " he sang out. " I done 'sciber de
corroliation ob de boa'd an' de mocking-
A DUSKY GENIUS 201
bird an' de 'possum, an' I done settle de
'vestigation, Mars' Spivey ; ef I hain't den
de debil 's er co'n dodger ! "
Before the judge could recover from the
surprise of the occasion, Rack changed
the step of his dance to a fluttering and
rattling double-shuffle as an accompani-
ment in counterpoint to the following
snatch of song : —
" De mockin'-bird fink it smart o' him
Wen he hide he music in de limb !
Oh, ya, ya, ya !
An' er wha, wha, wha !
Wen he stuflf he chunes all in de limb !
** Dat pine boa'd sing till it wa'p right roun*,
An' ebery day it ketch mo' soun'.
Oh, ya, ya, ya !
An' er wha, wha, wha !
Fo' ebery day it ketch mo' soun' !
" De 'possum gwine ter shed he skin,
An' den de music will begin.
Oh, ya, ya, ya !
An' er wha, wha, wha !
Wen dat ole 'possum shed he skin ! " '
202 A DUSKY GENIUS
He ended with a high fling and a tre-
mendous foot-stroke on the resounding
floor. The judge remonstrated and even
tried the old worn threats, but Rack would
not be controlled.
" I done cotch onter de corroliation ob
de biorology ! " he cried exultingly, still
skipping about. " Dat man Dahwin, he
plumb dead-right ebery time on de bior-
ology an' devolution. It gwine ter be er
cla'r case ob nat'ral dejection an' de 'vival
ob de fitified ! It gwine ter be er cla'r
case ob devolution f'om de gin'ral ter de
spec'fication, f'om de simple ter de con-
found ! Free ob de simplest an' no'-count-
est gineralist fings in de worl' gwine ter be
devoluted inter de one confoundest special-
est best t'ing 'at eber yo' see in all yo' bo'n
days ! "
Here he caught the double-shuffle again,
and added to it what was known as the
" I kill dat ole 'possum las' night," he
A DUSKY GENIUS 203
added in a calmer way, though he was
panting heavily. " Hi ! 'fo' Gor, I jes'
knock 'im lim'er wid er light-'ood knot, an'
skin 'im afore he done kickin'. Bless yo'
life, Mars' Spivey, but dat 's de bigges'
'possum-skin dis yer chile eber see in he
whole bo'n days. Look mos' like er calf-
hide er-hangin' down dah on my doo'."
A few days after this the judge was sur-
prised to discover that Rack had climbed
up in the mulberry-tree and cut off the
famous limb which had been fed for so
many fruitful summers by the mocking-
bird. The resonant board, too, had been
removed from the cabin's roof.
Now came the six long years of patient
labor by which Rack Dillard reached the
goal of his soul's ambition. First he hung
a section of the mulberry limb, about three
feet long, close to the jamb of his fireplace
to season, and then he began with a piece
of glass scraping thinner the old warped
board. Meantime the opossum's skin was
204 A DUSKY GENIUS
lying under a bed of hickory ashes, which
sooner or later would deprive it of its hair.
Day after day, through the seasons and
the years, the old judge found his chief
pleasure in sitting with his pipe in his
mouth, watching Rack scrape and file and
cut and carve the singing-board and the
full-fed mulberry billet, or manipulate the
pale, translucent hide of the opossum.
" I '11 jes' show yo' 'bout de corroliation
ob dem fings. Mars' Spivey," the negro
would mutter, without lifting his bleared
and sunken eyes. " Yo' said dey was n't
no corroliation 'tween 'em, an' I said dey
was. Pooty soon we see who gwine be
right 'bout dis yer biorology question, so
The singing-board proved to be a singu-
larly even-fibred piece of pine three feet
long and four inches wide by a half-inch
thick. For about fifty years it had lain in
the cabin roof absorbing the warmth of the
sun and the drying sweetness of the moun-
A DUSKY GENIUS 205
tain wind. Slowly its tissue had been
granulated and rearranged under the daily,
jarring of the woodpecker's bill, until now,
after the scraping and polishing Rack had
given it, the wood had an amber, waxen
appearance, and was flexible and sonorous
as the finest tempered steel. But the mul-
berry billet ! Never was there another
such a bit of color, fragrance, and fineness.
From the gnarled little pit, in which for
fifty years the mocking-bird had brewed
his purple wine, the rich stain of the
berries had spread through the wood in a
waving, rippling flood, giving it a royal dye
and a fruity, musty odor like the bouquet
of old wine.
Near the close of the six-years' period
mentioned awhile ago, Rack, on the look-
out for his master's daily visit, met the
judge at the cabin door, and remarked : —
" 'Bleeged ter say ter yo'. Mars' Spivey,
'at yo' 's not welcome ter-day. Yo' got no
business down yer nohow."
206 A DUSKY GENIUS
The judge was taken by surprise. He
leaned on his staff and looked quizzically
into the old negro's face. Rack did not
" Yo' 's not gwine inside er dat cabin
dis day," he persisted, " 'ca'se I 's got ter
hab de room all ter myse'f. I 's er-gittin'
ter de corroliation w'at we been er 'sputin'
er-bout, an' I 's jes eberlastin'ly er-knockin'
de holy stuffin' out'n all yo' ram'fications
on de biorology. So yo' kin jes' go back,
honey, an' wait tell I come fo' yo'. No,
I 's not gwine come fo' yo' nudder ; yo'
jes' come yo' own se'f nex' Sat'd'y night.
Yo' heah, now? Nex' Sat'd'y night I 's
gwineter be ready fo' yo'."
The judge turned about slowly and re-
luctantly; leaned a moment on his cane;
faltered when he tried to say something ;
then trudged back to his favorite seat on
the mansion's stoop, where he smoked and
dozed. Recently his age had been soften-
ing his feelings. An hysterical sentimen-
A DUSKY GENIUS 20/
tality had gained upon him. Rack's re-
fusal to confide in him had worn upon
him day by day for years, and now he felt,
however indefinitely, that the last straw of
ingratitude had been heaped upon him.
Nevertheless he waited patiently for Sat-
urday evening to come, with but the
slightest and vaguest sense of the olden-
time arrogance which would have resented
the merest suggestion of being dictated to
by a negro. This supremacy gained over
his lifelong master was, it seems to me,
the highest evidence of Rack Dillard's
When Saturday afternoon faded at last
into twilight, which in turn slowly soft-
ened into a moonlight night, the judge
began to make some preliminary move-
ments with a view to visiting the cabin ;
but he lingered, cane in hand and pipe in
mouth, at the little gate before his house,
hesitating for no particular reason. It
was midsummer, and the dry softness of
208 A DUSKY GENIUS
the mountain air touched tenderly the
dreaming, dusky leaf-masses of the woods,
and hung misty veils on the horizon. He
presently crept through the gate, hesitat-
ing just outside for a while, and gazing up
at the stars and the moon. It was his
way of restraining his impatience, and be-
sides he had not been quite able to forgive
Rack. He toddled along the path, fitfully
pausing here and there, until at last he
turned the corner of the rock. At the
cabin porch he stopped short and stood in
a listening attitude, amazed at first and
then entranced. The little house was full
of music that rippled out through every
opening, and tinkled away in thin rills
along the dim paths of the woods. The
judge remembered that in his young days
Rack had been a musician of no mean
ability; but for years he had had no in-
strument to play upon. Evidently he was
now making up for lost time ; and what
music ! Was ever anything else so bur-
A DUSKY GENIUS 209
dened with pathos ? So barbaric, still so
refined ? So brimming with virile force,
so tender, so touching, so hilarious, so
comic, so sweet, so true ? The old judge
felt the hot tears gush up into his eyes,
he knew not why. It was as if the old
times of his boyhood had blown their
sweets back upon him, with the laughter
of childhood, the patter and shufHe of
dancing feet, the songs of myriad mock-
ing-birds, the rustle of satin leaves and
silken wings, the bubble and bouquet of
purple wine, the fragrance and resonance
of all the sweet, dry, sun-seasoned wood
that ever was wrought into violin or harp.
He stood there crying and laughing, keep-
ing time with his staff and wagging his
head, now slowly, now briskly, as the
strains varied from grave to gay.
" Oh, de peckerwood he head er red,
Lolly, lally, ho ! "
came forth Rack's voice, rich and strong
despite old age, singing to a well-timed
210 A DUSKY GENIUS
accompaniment and the pat, pat, pat of his
" Oh, de peckerwood he head er red.
Lolly, lally, ho !
An' de mockin'-bird he been stall-fed,
Lolly, lally, ho !
" Oh, de 'possum am er funny t'ing,
Lolly, lally, ho !
Wen he lif 'is foot fo' de pigeon-wing,
LoUy, lally, ho !
" De pine boa'd set my notion gwine,
Lolly, lally, ho !
An' de mulberry limb it mighty fine,
Lolly, lally, ho ! "
The judge could bear it no longer. He
pushed open the door and went in. Rack
looked up and nodded, but kept on sing-
ing and playing, emphasizing his notes
more than ever, if that were possible.
Judge Dillard began to dance, and even to
sing, as Rack changed the tune : —
" Oh, lo'dy massy, how d' yo' feel,
Wid de' 'possum grease down in yo' heel,
An' yo' head all full o' turnip-pie.
An' er big sweet 'tater in yo' eye ? "
A DUSKY GENIUS 211
The negro's voice ceased when the
judge's began, but the banjo, quickening
the new air, rang on in jolly unison. Who
would have thought that an octogenarian
could ever have danced like that !
" Wash yo' teef wid de blackin'-brush,
Grease yo' ha'r in er pot er mush,
Go to de dance er Sat'd'y night,
Patrol whop yo' 'fo' daylight ! "
The black had conquered the white.
When the judge sank at last into a chair
he was exhausted, panting, sweating, his
heart beating violently. Rack keyed one
string up a trifle, leaned a little farther
over, and began to sing plaintively : —
" Marster, now we 's growin' ole,
De heads am white, de feet am cole,
But de ole, ole age cayn't do no harm
W'en de heart, de heart am true an' warm.
" Marster, w'en we drop ter sleep.
In de grabe so cool an' deep.
Den we nebber feel de storm,
Ef our po' ole hearts is warm."
212 A DUSKY GENIUS
They sat up all night long, now singing,
now dancing, anon talking over old times on
the Ulufta. Something in the music of that
banjo had an intoxicating effect. Judge
Dillard felt fifty years younger, and Rack
found it not in the least difficult or tire-
some to play for an hour at a time without
a moment's rest. The exquisite odor of
the pine wood touched the air in the room,
and there was a distinct flavor of ripe
mulberries straying elusively about.
When I visited Rack's cabin I exam-
ined with care and interest the incompara-
ble banjo which the negro's patient genius
had built out of the " singing-board, the
over-fed mulberry limb, and the skin of
the famous Ulufta 'possum," as the thrifty
Yankee proprietor describes it. No one
can doubt that science and art were hap-
pily married in the making of that superb
instrument. A glance shows that the carv-
ing, the proportions of the parts, and the
fine details of the finishing — from the
A DUSKY GENIUS 2l3
silvery, translucent skin that covers the
head, to the rich purple of the mulberry
neck, and the gold-colored hoop fashioned
out of the old warped board that had sung
so long in the cabin roof — are exquisite
beyond description. On the under part
of the neck is the only authentic auto-
graph left by Rack Dillard. It is a legible
carved inscription of four words : " Dis is
Rack's grave is on the top of the high
cliff above his cabin. It overlooks the
lovely valley of the Ulufta, and commands
a fine view of the Hog Back. To this
high tomb of the great negro originator
of true dialect, romance, and minstrelsy,
have come, as pilgrims to a shrine, many
faithful and devoted students to pay their
respects to the founder of their school.
Wreaths of flowers are laid tenderly on
the mound, and in the bold escarpment of
the rocks are cut ineffaceably some names
beloved of all men. Among these, and
214 A DUSKY GENIUS
high in the Hst, I noticed with peculiar
pleasure Joel Chandler Harris, H. S. Ed-
wards, Thomas Nelson Page, and Irwin
Russell, — the names of men whose stories
and songs and sketches have made known
to the world the tender faithful heart,
the rich, sunny humor, and the deeper
soul qualities of the Southern negro. I
hesitated awhile ; then, where no one
would be apt to see it, I scrawled my own
signature to testify that I too had been
Rack must have been a genius, a high
type of his race. As in the case of every
other genius, he foresaid or forecast the
life that was to come after him, while at
the same time he was the exponent of the
past. His songs and his banjo strains
left in the brisk, sweet air of the New
South a lasting reminder of the old plan-
tation days. The years he spent so pa-
tiently in establishing a close relationship
among his materials, and which drew to-
A DUSKY GENIUS 215
gether the three elements of his art, fun,
pathos, and music, have served well the
civilization of our time, and have added a
distinct tint and a new flavor to life. We
owe a great deal to Rack Dillard. Peace
to his ashes !
THE BALANCE OF POWER
" I don't hesitate to say to you that I
regard him as but a small remove in nature
from absolute trash, Phyllis, — absolute
trash. His character may be good —
doubtless it is ; but he is not of good fam-
ily, and he shows it. What is he but a
mountain cracker ? There is no middle
ground ; trash is trash ! "
Colonel Mobley Sommerton spoke in a
rich bass voice, slowly rolling his words.
The bagging of his trousers at the knees
made his straight legs appear bent, as if
for a jump at something, while his daugh-
ter Phyllis looked at him searchingly, but
not in the least impatiently, her fine gray
eyes wide open, and her face, with its deli-
cately blooming cheeks, its peach-petal
THE BALANCE OF POWER 21/
lips, and its saucy little nose, all attention
and half-indignant surprise.
" Of course," the colonel went on, with
a conciliatory touch in his words, when he
had waited some time for his daughter to
speak and she spoke not, — " of course
you do not care a straw for him, Phyllis ;
I know that the daughter of a Sommerton
could n't care for such a " —
" I don't mind saying to you that I do
care for him, and that I love him, and want
to marry him," broke in Phyllis, with trem-
ulous vehemence, tears gushing from her
eyes at the same time ; and a depth of
touching pathos seemed to open behind
her words, albeit they rang like so many
notes of rank boldness in the old man's
" Phyllis ! " he exclaimed. Then he
stooped a little, his trousers bagging still
more, and he stood in an attitude almost
stagy, a flare of choleric surprise leaping
into his face. " Phyllis Sommerton, what
2l8 THE BALANCE OF POWER
do you mean ? Are you crazy ? You say
that to me ? "
The girl — she was just eighteen —
faced her father with a look at once tear-
fully saucy and lovingly firm. The sauci-
ness, however, was superficial and physical,
not in any degree a part of her mental
mood. She could not, had she tried, have
been the least bit willful or impertinent
with her father, who had always been a
model of tenderness. Besides, a girl never
lived who loved a parent more unreserv-
edly than Phyllis loved Colonel Sommer-
" Go to your room, miss ! go to your
room ! Step lively at that, and let me have
no more of this nonsense. Go ! I com-
mand you ! "
The stamp with which the colonel's
rather substantial boot just then shook the
floor seemed to generate some current of
force sufficient to whirl Phyllis about and
send her upstairs in an old-fashioned fit of
THE BALANCE OF POWER 219
hysteria. She v/as crying and talking and
running all at the same time, her voice
made liquid like a bird's, and yet jangling
with mixed emotions. Down fell her wavy
long brown hair almost to her feet, one
rich strand trailing over the rail, as she
mounted the steps, while the rustling of
her muslin dress told off the springy mo-
tion of her limbs till she disappeared in
the gilt-papered gloom aloft, where the
windowless hall turned at right angles
with the stairway.
Colonel Sommerton was smiling grimly
by this time, and his iron-gray moustache
" She 's a little brick," he muttered ; " a
chip off the old log — by zounds, she is !
She means business. Got the bit in her
teeth, and fairly splitting the air ! " He
chuckled raucously. " Let her go : she '11
soon tire out."
Sommerton Place, a picturesque old
mansion, as mansions have always gone in
220 THE BALANCE OF POWER
north Georgia, stood in a grove of oaks
on a hilltop overlooking a little mountain
town, beyond which uprose a crescent of
blue peaks against a dreamy summer sky.
Behind the house a broad plantation rolled
its billow-like ridges of corn and cotton.
The colonel went out on the veranda
and lit a cigar, after breaking two or three
matches that he nervously scratched on a
This was the first quarrel that he had
ever had with Phyllis.
Mrs. Sommerton had died when Phyl-
lis was twelve years old, leaving the little
girl to be brought up in a boarding-school
in Atlanta. The widowed man did not
marry again, and when his daughter came
home six months before the opening of
our story, it was natural that he should see
nothing but loveliness in the fair, bright,
only child of his happy wedded life, now
The reader must have taken for granted
THE BALANCE OF POWER 221
that the person under discussion in the
conversation touched upon at the outset
of this writing was a young man ; but
Tom Banister stood for more than the
sum of the average young man's values.
He was what in our republic is recognized
as a promising fellow, bright, magnetic,
shifty, well forward in the neologies of so-
ciety, business, and politics, a born leader
in a small way, and as ambitious as pov-
erty and a brimming self-esteem could
make him. From his humble law-office
window he had seen Phyllis pass along the
street in the old Sommerton carriage, and
had fallen in love as promptly as possible
with her plump, lissome form and pretty
He sought her acquaintance, avoided
with cleverness a number of annoying
barriers, assaulted her heart, and won it,
all of which stood as mere play when com-
pared with climbing over the pride and
prejudice of Colonel Sommerton. For
222 THE BALANCE OF POWER
Banister was nobody in a social way, as
viewed from the lofty top of the hill at
Sommerton Place ; indeed, all of his kins-
people were mountaineers, honest, it is
true, but decidedly woodsy, who tilled
stony acres in a pocket beyond the first
blue ridge yonder. His education seemed
good, but it had been snatched from the
books by force, with the savage certainty of
grip which belongs to genius.
Colonel Sommerton, having unbounded
confidence in Phyllis's aristocratic breed-
ing, would not open his eyes to the atti-
tude of the young people, until suddenly
it came into his head that possibly the al-
most briefless plebeian lawyer had ulterior
designs while climbing the hill, as he was
doing noticeably often, from town to Som-
merton Place. But when this thought
arrived the colonel was prompt to act.
He called up the subject at once, and we
have seen the close of his interview with
THE BALANCE OF POWER 223
Now he stood on the veranda and puffed
his cigar with quick short draughts, as a
man does who falters between two horns
of a dilemma. He turned his head to one
side, as if listening to his own thoughts,
his tall pointed collar meantime fitting
snugly in a crease of his furrowed jaw.
At this moment the shambling, yet in a
way facile footsteps of Barnaby, the spo-
radic freedman of the household, were
soothing. Colonel Sommerton turned his
eyes on the comer inquiringly, almost
" Well, Barn, you 're back," he said.
" Yah, sah ; I 's had er confab wid 'em,"
remarked the negro, seating himself on
the top step of the veranda, and mopping
his coal-black face with a red cotton hand-
kerchief ; " an' hit do beat all. Niggahs
is mos'ly eejits, w'en yo wants 'em to hab
He was a huge, ill-shapen, muscular fel-
low, old but still vigorous, and in his small
224 THE BALANCE OF POWER
black eyes twinkled an unsounded depth
of shrewdness. He had been the colonel's
slave from his young manhood to the close
of the war ; since then he had hung around
Ellijay what time he was not sponging a
livelihood from Sommerton Place under
color of doing various light turns in the
vegetable garden, and of attending to his
quondam master's horses.
Barnaby was a great banjoist, a charm-
ing song-singer, and a leader of the negroes
round about. Lately he was gaining some
reputation as a political boss.
There was but one political party in the
county (for the colored people were so few
that they could not be called a party),
and the only struggle for ofHce came in
pursuit of a nomination, which was al-
ways equivalent to election. Candidates
were chosen at a convention or mass-meet-
ing of the whites, and the only figure that
the blacks were able to cut in the matter
was by reason of a pretended rather than
THE BALANCE OF POWER 225
a real prejudice against them, which was
used by the candidates (who were always
white men) to further their electioneering
schemes, as will presently appear.
" Hit do beat all," Barnaby repeated,
shaking his heavy head reflectively, and
making a grimace both comical and hid-
eous. " Dat young man desput sma't an'
cunnin', sho' 's yo' bo'n he is. He done
been foohn' wid dem niggahs a'ready."
The reader may as well be told at once
that if a candidate could by any means
make the negroes support his opponent
for the nomination it was the best card he
could possibly play; or if he could not
quite do this, but make it appear that the
other fellow was not unpopular in colored
circles, it served nearly the same turn.
Phyllis, when she ran crying upstairs
after the conversation with her father, went
to her room, and fell into a chair by the
window. So it chanced that she over-
heard the conference between Colonel
226 THE BALANCE OF POWER
Sommerton and Barnaby, and long after it
was ended she still sat there leaning on
the window-sill. Her eyes showed a trifle
of irritation, but the tears were all gone.
" Why did n't Tom tell me that he was
going to run against father ? " she in-
quired of herself over and over. " I think
he might have trusted me, so I do. It 's
mean of him. And if he should beat papa !
Papa could n't bear that."
She sprang to her feet and walked
across the room, stopping on the way to
rub her apple-bloom cheeks before a look-
ing-glass. Vaguely enough, but insistently,
the outline of a political plot glimmered
in her consciousness and troubled her un-
derstanding. Plainly, her father and Tom
Banister were rival candidates, and just
as plainly each was scheming to make it
appear that the negroes were supporting
his opponent ; but the girl's little head
could not gather up and comprehend all
that such a condition of things meant.
THE BALANCE OF POWER 22/
She supposed that a sort of disgrace
would attach to defeat, and she clasped
her hands and poised her winsome body
melodramatically when she asked herself
which she would rather the defeat would
fall upon, her father or Tom. She leaned
out of the window and saw Colonel Som-
merton walking down the road toward
town, with his cigar elevated at an acute
angle with his nose, his hat pulled well
down in front, by which she knew that he
was still excited.
Days went by, as days will in any state
of affairs, with just such faultless weather
as August engenders amid the dry, cool
hills of the old Cherokee country ; and
Phyllis noted, by an indirect attention to
what she had never before been interested
in, that Colonel Sommerton was growing
strangely confidential and familiar with
'Barnaby. She had a distinct but remote
impression that her father had hitherto
never, at least never openly, shown such
228 THE BALANCE OF POWER
irenic solicitude in that direction, and she
knew that his sudden peace-making with
the old negro meant ill to her lover. She
pondered the matter with such discrimina-
tion and logic as her clever little brain could
compass ; and at last she one evening called
Barnaby to come into the garden with his
The sun was going down, and the half-
grown moon swung yellow and clear
asrainst the violet arch of mid-heaven.
Through the sheen a softened outline of
the town wavered fantastically.
Phyllis sat on a great fragment of lime-
stone, which, embossed with curious fos-
sils, formed the immovable centre-piece of
Barnaby, at a respectful distance, crum-
pled himself satyr-like on the ground, with
his banjo across his knee, and gazed ex-
pectantly aslant at the girl's sweet face.
" Now play me my father's favorite
song," she said.
THE BALANCE OF POWER 229
They heard Mrs. Wren, the house-
keeper, opening the windows in the upper
rooms of the mansion to let in the night
air, which was stirring over the valley with
a delicious mountain chill on its wings.
All around in the trees and shrubbery the
katydids were rasping away in immelodi-
ous statement and denial of the ancient
Barnaby demurred. He did not imagine,
so at least he said, that Miss Phyllis would
be pleased with the ballad that recently
had been the colonel's chief musical de-
light; but he must obey the young lady,
and so, after some throat-clearing and
string-tuning, he proceeded : —
" I 'd rudder be er niggah
Dan ter be er whi' man,
Dough the whi' man considdah
He se'f biggah ;
But ef yo' mus' be white, w'y be hones' ef yo' can,
An' ac' es much es poss'ble like er niggah !
" De colah ob yo' skin
Hit don't constertoot no sin,
230 THE BALANCE OF POWER
An' yo' fambly ain't er-
Cuttin' any figgah ;
Min' w'at yo 's er-doin', an' do de bes' yo' kin,
An' ac' es much es poss'ble like er niggah ! "
The tune of this song was melody it-
self, brimming with that unkempt, sarcas-
tic humor which always strikes as if
obliquely, and with a flurry of tipsy fun,
into one's ears.
When the performance was ended, and
the final tinkle of the rollicking banjo
accompaniment died away down the slope
of Sommerton Hill, Phyllis put her plump
chin in her hands, and, with her elbows on
her knees, looked steadily at Barnaby.
" Barn," she said, " is my father going to
get the colored people to indorse Mr. Tom
Banister ? "
" Yas, ma'm," replied the old negro ;
and then he caught his breath and checked
himself in confusion. " Da-da-dat is, er —
I spec' so — er I don' 'no', ma'm," he stam-
mered. " 'Fo' de Lor' I's " —
THE BALANCE OF POWER 231
Phyllis interrupted him with an impa-
tient laugh, but said no more. In due
time Barnaby sang her some other ditties,
and then she went into the house. She
gave the negro a large coin, and on the
veranda steps she called back to him,
" Good-night, Uncle Barn," in a voice that
made him shake his head and mutter : —
" De bressed chile ! De bressed chile ! "
And yet he was aware that she had out-
witted him and gained his secret. He
knew how matters stood between the
young lady and Tom Banister, and there
arose in his mind a vivid sense of the dan-
ger that might result to his own and Colo-
nel Sommerton's plans from a disclosure
of this one vital detail. Would Phyllis
tell her lover? Barnaby shook his head
in a dubious way.
" Gals is pow'ful onsartin, so dey is," he
muttered. " Dey tells der sweethearts
mos'ly all what dey knows, spacially se-
crets. Spec' de ole boss an' he plan done
232 THE BALANCE OF POWER
gone up de chimbly er-callyhootin' fo'
Then the old scamp began to turn over
in his brain a scheme which seemed to
offer him a fair way of approaching Mr.
Tom Banister's pocket and the portemon-
naie of Phyllis as well. He chuckled atro-
ciously as a pretty comprehensive view of
" practical politics " opened itself to him.
Tom Banister had not been to see
Phyllis since her father had delivered his
opinion to her touching the intrinsic mer-
its of that young man, and she felt uneasy.
Colonel Sommerton, though notably
eccentric, could be depended upon for out-
right dealing in general ; still Phyllis had
a pretty substantial belief that in politics
success lay largely on the side of the trick-
ster. For many years the colonel had
been in the Legislature. No man had
been able to beat him for the nomination.
Phyllis had often heard him tell how he
laid out his antagonists by taking excellent
THE BALANCE OF POWER 233
and popular short turns on them, and it
was plain to her mind now that he was
weaving a snare for Tom Banister.
She thought of Tom's running for office
against her father as something prodi-
giously strange. Certainly it was a bold
and daring piece of youthful audacity for
him to be guilty of. He, a young sprig of
the law, with his brown moustache not yet
grown, setting himself up to beat Colonel
Mobley Sommerton ! Phyllis blushed
whenever she thought of it ; but the colo-
nel had never once mentioned Tom's
candidacy to her.
The convention was approaching, and
day by day signs of popular interest in it
increased as the time shortened. Colonel
Sommerton was preparing a speech for
the occasion. The manuscript of it lay
on the desk in his library.
About this time — it was near the ist
of September, and the watermelons and
cantaloupes were in their glory — the colo-
234 THE BALANCE OF POWER
nel was called away to a distant town for
a few days. In his absence Tom Banis-
ter chanced to visit Sommerton Place. Of
course Phyllis was not expecting him ;
indeed, she told him that he ought not to
have come; but Tom thought differently
in a very persuasive way. The melons
were good, the library delightfully cool,
and conversation caught the fragrance of
innocent albeit stolen pleasure.
Tom Banister was unquestionably a
handsome young fellow, carrying a hearty,
whole-souled expression in his open, al-
most rosy face. His large brown eyes,
curly brown hair, silken young moustache,
and firmly set mouth and chin well matched
his stalwart, symmetrical form. He was
not only handsome, he was brilliant in a
way, and his memory was something pro-
digious. Unquestionably he would rise
" I am going to beat your father for the
nomination," he remarked, midmost the
THE BALANCE OF POWER 235
discussion of their melons, speaking in a
tone of absolute confidence.
" Tom," she exclaimed, " you must n't
do it ! "
" Why. I 'd like to know ? "
She looked at him as if she felt a sud-
den fright. His eyes fell before her in-
tense, searching gaze.
" It would be dreadful," she presently
managed to say. " Papa could n't bear it."
" It will ruin me forever if I let him beat
me. I shall have to go away from here."
It was now his turn to become intense.
" I don't see what makes men think so
much of office," she complained evasively.
" I 've heard papa say that there was abso-
lutely no profit in going to the Legisla-
ture." Then, becoming insistent she ex-
claimed, " Withdraw, Tom ; please do, for
my sake ! "
She made a rudimentary movement as
if to throw her arms around him, but it
came to nothing. Her voice, however,
236 THE BALANCE OF POWER
carried a mighty appeal to Tom's heart.
He looked at her, and thought how com-
monplace other women were when com-
pared with her.
" You will withdraw, won't you, Tom } "
she prayed. One of her hands touched
his arm. " Say yes, Tom."
For a moment his political ambition
and his standing with men appeared to
dissolve into a mere mist, a finely com-
minuted sentiment of love ; but he kept a
good hold upon himself.
" I cannot do it, Phyllis," he said, in a
firm voice, which disclosed by some inde-
scribable inflection how much it pained
him to refuse. " My whole future depends
upon success in this race. I am sorry it
is your father I must beat, but, Phyllis, I
must be nominated. I can't afford to sit
down in your father's shadow. As sure
as you live I am going to beat him."
In her heart she was proud of him, and
proud of this resolution that not even she
THE BALANCE OF POWER 237
could break. From that moment she was
between the millstones. She loved her fa-
ther, it seemed to her, more than ever, she
could not bear the thought of his defeat.
Indeed, with that generosity characteris-
tic of the sex, which can be truly humor-
ous only when absolutely unconscious of
it, she wanted both Tom and the colonel
nominated, and both elected. She was
the partisan on Tom's side, the adherent
on her father's.
Colonel Sommerton returned on the
day before the convention, and found his
friends enthusiastic, all his " fences " in
good condition, and his nomination evi-
dently certain. It followed that he was in
high good-humor. He hugged Phyllis,
and casually brought up the thought of
how pleasantly they could spend the win-
ter in Atlanta when the Legislature met.
"But Tom — I mean Mr. Banister —
is going to beat you, and get the nomina-
tion," she archly remarked.
238 THE BALANCE OF POWER
" If he does, I '11 deed you Sommerton
Place ! " As he spoke he glared at her as
a lion might glare at thought of being de-
feated by a cub.
" To him and me ? " she inquired, with
sudden eagerness of tone. " If he " —
" Phyllis ! " he interrupted savagely, " no
joking on that subject. I won't " —
" No ; I 'm serious," she sweetly said.
" If he can't beat you, I don't want him."
" Zounds ! Is that a bargain ? " He
laid his hand on her shoulder, and bent
down so that his eyes were on a level with
" Yes," she replied ; " and I '11 hold you
" You promise me? " he insisted.
" A man must go ahead of my papa,"
she said, putting her arms about the old
gentleman's neck, " or I '11 stay by papa."
He kissed her with atrocious violence.
Even the knee-sag of his trousers sug-
gested more than ordinary vigor of feeling.
THE BALANCE OF POWER 239
" Well, it 's good-by Tom," he said,
pushing her away from him, and letting
go a profound bass laugh. " I '11 settle
" You '11 see," she rejoined. " He may
not be so easy to settle."
He gave her a savage but friendly cuff
as they parted.
That evening old Barnaby brought his
banjo around to the veranda. Colonel
Sommerton was down in town mixing
with the "boys," and doing up his final
political chores so that there might be no
slip on the morrow. It was near eleven
o'clock when he came up the hill, and
stopped at the gate to hear the song that
Barnaby was singing. He supposed that
the old negro was all alone. Certainly the
captivating voice, with its unkempt mel-
ody, and its throbbing, skipping, harum-
scarum banjo accompaniment, was all that
broke the silence of the place.
His song was : —
240 THE BALANCE OF POWER
DE SASSAFRAS BLOOM.
" Dey 's sugah in de win' when de sassafras bloom,
When de little co'n fluttah in de row,
When de robin in de tree, like er young gal in de loom,
Sing sweet, sing sof, sing low.
*' Oh, de sassafras blossom hab de keen smell o' de root,
An' it hab sich er tender yaller green !
De co'n hit kinder twinkle when hit firs' begin ter shoot.
While de bum'lebee hit bum'les in between.
" Oh, de sassafras tassel, an' de young shoot o' de co'n,
An' de young gal er-singing in de loom,
Dey 's somefin' 'licious in 'em f 'om de day 'at dey is
An' dis darkey 's sort o' took er likin' to 'm.
"Hit's kind o' sort o' glor'us when yo' feels so quare
An' yo' don' know what it is yo' wants ter do ;
But I takes de chances on it 'at hit jes' can't be injur'us
When de whole endurin' natur tells yo' to !
*' Den wake up, niggah, see de sassafras in bloom !
Lis'n how de sleepy wedder blow !
An' de robin in de haw-bush an' de young gal in de
Is er-singin' so sof an' low."
THE BALANCE OF POWER 241
" Thank you, Barn ; here 's your dollar,"
said the voice of Tom Banister when the
song was ended. "You may go now."
And while Colonel Sommerton stood
amazed, the young man came down the
veranda steps with Phyllis on his arm.
They stopped when they reached the
"Good -night, dear. I '11 win you to-
morrow or my name is not Tom Banis-
ter. I '11 win you, and Sommerton Place
too." And when they parted he came
right down the walk between the trees, to
run almost against Colonel Sommerton.
"Why, good-evening, colonel," he said,
with a cordial, liberal spirit in his voice.
" I have been waiting in hopes of seeing
" You '11 get enough of me to-morrow
to last you a lifetime, sah," promptly re-
sponded the old man, marching straight
on into the house. Nothing could express
more concentrated, and yet comprehen-
242 THE BALANCE OF POWER
sive contempt than Colonel Sommerton's
" The impudent young scamp," he
growled. " I '11 show him ! "
Phyllis sprang from ambush behind a
vine, and covered her father's face with
warm kisses, then broke away before he
could say a word, and ran up to her room.
In the distant kitchen, Barnaby was
" Kicked so high I broke my neck,
An' fling my right foot off'm my leg ;
Went to work mos' awful quick,
An' mended 'em wid er wooden peg."
Next morning, at nine o'clock sharp, the
convention was called to order, General
John Tolliver in the chair. Speeches were
expected, and it had been arranged that
Tom Banister should first appear. Colonel
Sommerton would follow, and then the bal-
lot would be taken.
This order of business showed the fine
tactics of the colonel, who well understood
THE BALANCE OF POWER 243
how much advantage lay in the vivid im=
pression of a closing speech.
As the two candidates made their way
from opposite directions through the
throng to the platform, which was under a
tree in a beautiful suburban grove, both
were greeted with effusive warmth by ad=
miring constituents. Many women were
present, and Tom Banister felt the blood
surge mightily through his veins at sight
of Phyllis standing tall and beautiful be=
fore him with her hand extended.
" If you lose, die game, Tom," she mur-
mured, as he pressed her fingers and
The young man's appearance on the
stand called forth a tremendous roar of
applause. Certainly he was popular.
Colonel Sommerton felt a queer shock of
surprise thrill along his nerves. Could it
be possible that he would lose ? No ; the
thought was intolerable. He sat a trifle
straighter on his bench, and began gather-
244 THE BALANCE OF POWER
ing the points of his well-conned speech.
He saw old Barnaby moving around the
rim of the crowd, apparently looking for a
Meantime Tom was proceeding in a
clear, soft, far-reaching voice. The colonel
started and looked askance. What did it
mean ? At first his brain was confused,
but presently he understood. Word for
word, sentence for sentence, paragraph for
paragraph, Tom was delivering the colo-
nel's own sonorous speech ! Of course
the application was reversed here and
there, so that the wit, the humor, and the
personal thrusts all went home. It was a
wonderful piece of ad captandum oratory.
The crowd went wild from start to finish.
Colonel Mobley Sommerton sat dazed
and stupefied, mopping his forehead and
trying to collect his faculties. He felt
beaten, annihilated, while Tom soared su-
perbly on the wings of Sommertonian ora-
tory so mysteriously at his command.
THE BALANCE OF POWER 245
From a most eligible point of view Phyl-
lis was gazing at Tom, and receiving the
full brilliant current of his speech, and she
appeared to catch a fine stimulus from the
flow of its opening sentences. As it pro-
ceeded her face alternately flushed and
paled, and her heart pounded heavily. All
around rose the tumult of unbridled ap-
plause. Men flung up their hats and
yelled themselves hoarse. A speech of
that sort from a young fellow like Tom
Banister was something to create irre-
pressible enthusiasm. It ended in such a
din that when General John Duff Tolliver
arose to introduce Colonel Sommerton he
had to wait for some time to be heard.
The situation was one that absolutely
appalled, though it did not quite paralyze,
the old candidate, who, even after he had
gained his feet and stalked to the front of
the rude rostrum, was as empty of thought
as he was full of despair. This sudden
and unexpected appropriation of his great
246 THE BALANCE OF POWER
speech had sapped and stupefied his intel-
lect. He slowly swept the crowd with his
dazed eyes, and by some accident the only
countenance clearly visible to him was that
of old Barnaby, who now sat far back on
a stump, looking for all the world like
a mightily mystified baboon. The negro
winked and grimaced, and scratched his
flat nose in sheer vacant stupidity. Colonel
Sommerton saw this, and it added an en-
feebling increment to his mental torpor.
" Fellow-citizens," he presently roared, in
his melodious bass voice, " I am proud of
this honor." He was not sure of another
word as he stood with bagging trousers
and sweat-beaded face, but he made a su-
perhuman effort to call up his comatose
wits. " I should be ungrateful were I not
proud of this great demonstration." Just
then his gaze fell upon the face of his
daughter. Their eyes met with a mutual
flash of retrospection. They were remem-
bering the bargain. The colonel was not
THE BALANCE OF POWER 247
aware of it, but the deliberateness and vocal
volume of his opening phrases made them
very impressive. " I assure you," he went
on, fumbling for something to say, " that
my heart is brimming with gratitude, so
that my lips find it hard to utter the words
that crowd into my mind." At this some
kindly friend in the audience gingerly set
going a ripple of applause, which, though
evidently forced, was like wine to the old
man's intellect ; it flung a glow through his
" The speech you have heard the youth-
ful limb of the law declaim is a very good
one, a very eloquent one indeed. If it were
his own I should not hesitate to say right
here that I ought to stand aside and let
him be nominated; but, fellow-citizens, that
speech belongs to another and far more
distinguished and eligible man than Tom
Banister." Here he paused again, and
stood silent for a moment. Then, lifting
his voice to a clarion pitch, he added : —
248 THE BALANCE OF POWER
" Fellow-citizens, I wrote that speech,
intending to deliver it here to-day. I was
called to Canton on business early in the
week, and during my absence Tom Banis-
ter went to my house and got my manu-
script and learned it by heart. To prove
to you that what I say is true, I will now
At this point the colonel, after deliber-
ately wiping his glasses, drew from his
capacious coat-pocket the manuscript of
his address, and proceeded to read it word
for word, just as Banister had declaimed
it. The audience listened in silence^ quite
unable to comprehend the situation. There
was no applause. Evidently sentiment was
dormant, or it was still with Tom. Colonel
Sommerton, feeling the desperation of the
moment, reached forth at random, and see-
ing Barnaby's old black face, it amused him,
and he chanced to grab a thought as if out
of the expression he saw there.
" Fellow-citizens," he added, " there is
THE BALANCE OF POWER 249
one thing I desire to say upon this impor-
tant occasion. Whatever you do, be sure
not to nominate to-day a man who would,
if elected, ally himself with the niggers. I
don't pretend to hint that my young oppo-
nent, Tom Banister, would favor nigger
rule, but I do say — do you hear me, fellow-
citizens ? — I do say that every nigger in
this country is a Banister man ! How do
I know ? I will tell you. Last Saturday
night the niggers had a meeting in an old
stable on my premises. Wishing to know
what they were up to, I stole slyly to where
I could overhear their proceedings. My
old nigger, Barnaby, — yonder he sits, and
he can't deny it, — was presiding, and the
question before the meeting was, ' Which
of the two candidates, Tom Banister and
Colonel Sommerton, shall we niggers sup-
port ? ' On this question there was some
debate and difference of opinion, until old
Bob Warmus arose and said, ' Mistah Pres'-
dent, dey 's no use er-talkin' ; I likes Colo-
250 THE BALANCE OF POWER
nel Sommerton mighty well ; he 's a berry
good man ; dey 's not a bit er niggah in 'im.
On t' Oder han', Mistah Pres'dent, Mistah
Tom Banistah is er white man too, jes' de
same ; but I kin say fo' Mistah Banistah 'at
he 's mo' like er niggah 'an any white man
'at I ebber seed afore ! ' " .
Here the colonel paused to wait for the
shouting and the hat-throwing to subside.
Meantime the face of old Barnaby was
drawn into one indescribable pucker of
amazement. He could not believe his
eyes or his ears. Surely that was not Colo-
nel Sommerton standing up there telling
such an enormous falsehood on him ! He
shook his woolly head dolefully and gnawed
a little splinter that he had plucked from a
" Of course, fellow-citizens," the Colonel
went on, " that settled the matter, and the
niggers indorsed Tom Banister unani-
mously by a rising vote ! "
The yell that went up when the speaker,
THE BALANCE OF POWER 25 1
bowing profoundly, took his seat, made it
seem certain that Banister would be
beaten ; but when the ballot was taken it
was found that he had been chosen by one
Colonel Mobley Sommerton'sface turned
as white as his hair. The iron of defeat
went home to his proud heart with terrible
effect, and as he tried to rise the features of
the hundreds of countenances below him
swam and blended confusedly on his vision.
The sedentary bubbles on the knees of his
trousers fluttered with sympathetic vio-
Tom Banister was on his feet in a mo-
ment. It was an appealing look from Phyl-
lis that inspired him, and once more his
genial voice rang out clear and strong.
" Fellow-citizens," he said, " I have a mo-
tion to make. Hear me." He waved his
right hand to command silence, then pro-
ceeded : " Mr. President, I withdraw my
name from this convention, and move that
252 THE BALANCE OF POWER
the nomination of Colonel Mobley Som-
merton be made unanimous by acclamation.
I have no right to this nomination, and no-
thing, save a matter greater than life or
death to me, could have induced me to steal
it as I this day have done. Colonel Som-
merton knows why I did it. He gave his
word of honor that he would cease all ob-
jections to giving his daughter to me in
marriage, and that furthermore he would
deed Sommerton Place to us as a wedding-
present, if I beat him for the nomination.
Mr, President and fellow-citizens, do you
blame me for memorizing his speech ?
That magnificent speech meant to me the
most beautiful wife in America, and the
handsomest estate in this noble county."
If Tom Banister had been boisterously
applauded before this, it was as nothing be-
side the noise which followed when Colonel
Sommerton was declared the unanimous
nominee of the convention. Meantime
Phyllis had hurried to the carriage and
THE BALANCE OF POWER 253
been driven home : she dared not stay and
let the crowd gaze at her after that bold
confession of Tom's.
The cheering for the nominee was yet at
its flood when Banister leaped at Colonel
Sommerton and grasped his hand. The
old gentleman was flushed and smiling, as
became a politician so wonderfully favored.
It was a moment never to be forgotten by
either of the men.
" I cordially congratulate you, Colonel
Sommerton, on your nomination," said Tom,
with great feeling, " and you may count on
my hearty support."
" If I don't have to support you, and pay
your office rent in the bargain, all the rest
of my life, I miss my guess, you young
scamp ! " growled the colonel, in a major
key. " Be off with you ! "
Tom moved away to let the colonel's
friends crowd up and shake hands with
him ; but the delighted youth could not
withhold a Parthian shaft. As he retreated
254 THE BALANCE OF POWER
he said : " Oh, Colonel Sommerton, don't
bother about my support; Sommerton
Plantation will be ample for that ! "
" Hit do beat all thunder how dese white
men syfoogles eroun' in politics," old Bar-
naby thought to himself. Then he rattled
the coins in his two pockets. The contri-
butions of Colonel Sommerton chinked on
the left, those of Tom Banister and Phyllis
rang on the right.
" Blame this here ole chile's eyes," he
went on, " but 't war a close shabe ! Seem
lak I 's kinder holdin' de balernce ob power.
I use my infloonce fer bofe ob 'em — yah,
yah, yah-r-r ! an' hit did look lak I 's gwin
ter balernce fings up tell I 'lee' 'em bofe ter
oncet right dar ! Bofe ob 'em got de nom-
ernation — yah, yah, yah-r-r ! But I say
'rah fo' little Miss Phyllis ! She de one 'at
know how to pull de right string — yah,
yah, yah-r-r ! "
The wedding at Sommerton Place came
on the Wednesday following the fall elec-
THE BALANCE OF POWER 255
tion. Besides the great number of guests
and the striking beauty of the bride, there-
was nothing notable in it, unless the song
prepared by Barnaby for the occasion, and
sung by him thereupon to a captivating
banjo accompaniment, may be so distin-
guished. A stanza, the final one of that
masterpiece, has been preserved. It may
serve as an informal ending, a charcoal tail-
piece, to our light but truthful little story.
" Stan' by yo' frien's and nebber mek trouble,
An' so, e£ yo 's got any sense,
Yo '11 know hit 's a good t'ing ter be sorter double,
An' walk on bofe sides ob de fence ! "
CAMBRIDGE. MASSACHUSETTS, U. S. A.
KLKCTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY
H. O. HOUGHTON AND CO.
BRARY OF THE